Do you groan at the thought of an industry event? Hate all the small talk at cocktail parties? If so, you’re not alone. But whether you’re a business owner or just looking for new opportunities-- both networking and networking events are an indispensable part of the game.
If you’re new to the networking scene, or even if you're a seasoned pro, here are six ways to make the most out of each networking opportunity:
6 Tips for Networking Success
1. Be on the lookout for opportunities, everywhere: Savvy entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for their next networking opportunity, whether it’s at a friend’s dinner party or in the pediatrician’s waiting room.
When you’re at a formal networking event, connect with everyone and never look over anyone’s shoulder. I can’t tell you how many people have found a new client or job by chatting with someone who knows someone. The lesson here is to appreciate each person you meet and never scan the room while talking to someone. You never know where a conversation may lead.
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2. Change your mindset: You’re there to give, not to get: Many new entrepreneurs and jobseekers enter a networking event thinking it’s their one shot to get x, y, or z. This sets the stakes so high, it inevitably sucks all the fun out of the event and puts an inordinate amount of pressure on your shoulders.
You need a change in mindset. You’re not necessarily there to get x, y, or z. Rather, you’re there to contribute to the event, help others, or just hear what others are doing. This change in thinking will heighten your sense of purpose and remove that pressure. In no time, you’ll find yourself developing strong relationships, attracting loads of referrals, and actually having a good time.
3. Don’t appear desperate: Whether you’re dating or networking, neediness is a major turn-off. When your main purpose is to get something from the conversation, you send the message that you’re deprived of something (i.e. a job or clients) and you’re looking for someone to save you. No matter how badly you do need a job or new client, you’ve got to set that aside when interacting with others.
4. Ask open-ended questions: The goal here is to ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. This is a great trick if you can’t stand all the repetitive small talk associated with meeting people the first time. Pick questions that require a real answer, like… "What are your customers asking for the most? Why do you think that is?" As a general rule of thumb, asking “Why” questions often spark the most interesting answers and conversations.
5. Drop the jargon: There’s a lot of jargon out there, and these buzzwords block any kind of meaningful conversation. You should prepare responses to common questions like "What do you do?" but these answers should be simple, snappy, and natural. You want anyone (and not just those people who work in your same industry circle) to instantly understand and connect with what you’re saying.
6. Practice: Last but not least, you’ll need to practice, practice, and more practice. Think of networking like any other professional skill. While others in the room may look like born networkers, in actuality, networking is rarely a skill that anyone just has. It’s something you have to learn through trial and error. And the best way to improve is to just get out and try.
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