Networking functions are key for both growing your professional circle, but it has numerous benefits.
Networking keeps you sharp. Introducing yourself, meeting and talking to people naturally upgrades your communication skills. If you put yourself in a room full of successful and motivated people, you will find new behaviors to model and expand upon. Personally, this is one of the top reasons as to why I go to these functions. My communication becomes enhanced and I get to hear about 70 other professional’s “elevator pitch”. It gives me great ideas for my own 8 second verbal portfolio.
I’m not actually expected to network or bring in cliental to my firm, but doing more than what is expected is how you go much further in your career than you first thought possible. Networking is a fun way to go the extra mile simply for the connections and possible collaborations that it can bring.
Don’t be afraid to go alone as most people arrive alone. People will walk right up and talk to you so don’t think that you’ll be standing in a corner by yourself. If just starting is the hardest part for you, then try practicing. Attend a luncheon meet up close to your office instead of an after work function. These are much shorter in duration and often follow some sort of structure; such as a speaker or presentation as you eat lunch at a table of 8-10, or “speed networking” that follows the same format as speed dating.
Attend functions that are within and just outside your expertise. I once attended a advertising industry based function so to gain inspiration on my branding project for my law firm. I met a marketing agency founder and we hit it off to where we still chat today. Soon after, I commissioned her marketing firm to draft a logo in alignment with my branding vision. Sometimes going to a function that isn’t directly related to your industry yields huge results. Constantly think outside of the box.
Come up with your own function to invite professionals to. Many nice taverns have a room that you can use that would otherwise be unoccupied on a Tuesday night. They will give the attendees a special on a certain drink or appetizer that you can use in the advertisement. Get the word out early and often, especially if you’re inviting a keynote speaker.
Set up working lunches for yourself with others high performance professionals from companies or a department that you want to eventually move to. Gaining information and experience that can be applied within your current department and leave them better for having had you while they did.
Sign up for Networking After Work and look at Meetup.com to find area functions, both websites service every city. Also look on your local Chamber of Commerce’s website as they list a ton of functions and lunch ‘n learns. Pay close attention to any association newsletter that you are a member of for upcoming events and place them in your calendar as if you have a meeting.
Dress appropriately. This does not have to mean boring, or even expensive, but it does have to mean elegant, polished, professional, and hands and shoes need to be clean. I’ve seen many tech guys come straight from work in their khakis and polo with their company’s logo. This is more than perfect! It’s as if they’re a walking business card! For the ladies, my tip is to either wear flats, or change into heels before you leave work to go.
Non-verbal communication; Smile, be warm and friendly, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake.
When it comes to name tags, always write so that someone standing 5 feet away can read it. Also, don’t be afraid to depart from the norm. Instead of your name you can put a promo, pitch, or ice breaker; “ask me how I can help you ____”, “my employer manages satellites” think of something punchy but relevant.
Keep your business cards on you at all times, in a holder to keep them crisp. If you carry a smartphone, download a free business card app that will allow you to snap a picture of business cards which will be automatically uploaded to your contacts. Keep a picture of yours as well for the times that you can just text it to a new contact.
Ladies, I find that it’s best to carry a clutch for these events. When it’s tucked under your left arm, and your holding your glass in your left hand, your right hand is always free to shake. All you really need is your wallet, phone, and business cards. Leave the bigger purses in the car.
Here is my trick for being properly *ahem* socially lubricated…inconspicuously…I mean these things are supposed to be fun! Before I leave my office, I eat a carb like a quick sandwich. I meet up with my networking partner MJ and have a drink. After that drink, I ask the bartender for a glass of water with lemon. I drink it all, and make a trip to the ladies to touch up make up, check my phone. Before walking into the function I will order either a glass of red wine, or a martini because I can’t drink either quickly. Once I’m done that drink, I will drink water for the rest of the night. Talking and laughing makes me thirsty and if I were to drink alcohol every time I was parched I would have to crawl out of the event. Not a good look.
I always follow up with communication within 1 business week. A thoughtful email saying hello or as a continuance of the conversation is necessary. The goal is to create and then nurture an ongoing business relationship. I have a few people that I’ve met while networking that I really trust. Their advice is sound, and they’re so great to do business with. As such, we make sure that we reach out every few months and meet up for a coffee or lunch. Keep in touch because that’s the whole point. I set a reminder into my calendar once per quarter to remind me to reach out to people that I haven’t reached out to in a while, because I have a tendency to go all introvert. Unless I remind myself to break that cycle I’ll get stuck.
In this time in history, we actually have to work at the human connection. While tech can have us instantly message people, there is no substitute to sitting down face to face and having a jam sesh over a coffee or craft beer and burger.
I sit in an office all day facing my computer screen, if I do this too much and don’t get out to meet other professionals, I notice that my verbal dexterity actually decreases. I’ll space on an easy word in a conversation and I will feel weird. Communication is an art, and art is a practice. What better way to practice than among others who are doing the same thing?