I have to be honest… I am one of those people that hates networking. I used to sweat like a pig when I had to walk up to someone and actually try to start a conversation. What if that person would find me boring? What if I was not good enough? What if he did not want to talk to me ever again? Fever dreams of big crowds of people pointing their little fingers at me and laughing their big red throats bare, tears in their eyes and laughing cramps in their belly, were not uncommon when I knew I had to make a “public” appearance and “meet” new people.
A few years ago I was writing for a magazine and they sent me to this mega awesome networking event for journalists. I bought my ticket to Brussels and sat in the train for an hour contemplating my trip, the workshops I was going to take and the people I was going to talk to. I was psyching myself up to “do it” and “network” and “meet people in the field” but once I got there… Well let’s say I shit my pants. Figuratively speaking off course. I stood there by one of those high “event tables” with a virgin white tablecloth drinking red wine and munching on crack-a-nuts. I saw all my journalistic heroes pass me by and talk to other, more ballsy journalists and journalism studies. I was scared to go to workshops because I did not want to fail and I whenever I wanted to leave my safe corner table (nicely hidden behind a hideous chamber plant) my feet were too heavy and I was basically nailed to the ground. After 45 minutes I ran to the station with my tail between my legs. I failed. I didn’t fail the event, I didn’t fail the people that were attending the event, I failed myself.
And I guess that train ride home, the cursing at myself and the “You are so fucking stupid, Lieze Neven” pep talks I gave myself, turned me around on Networking.
How did I do this? Pretty easy… I looked up some techniques I started to apply everywhere and anywhere I could. I started out small but the more confident I got the more ballsy I was able to be. No, I’m not a wunderkint yet but I’m able to make meaningful connections and networks and use them to my benefit.
Here are 10 tips that might help you with networking
1. Ask who you should talk to.
The first step is always an awkward one and I don’t think I can give you any advice on how to make it except to just do it and get over it. That’s what I had to do. Even now I sometimes need a glass of red wine ( or two) to feel comfortable enough to talk to strangers. But it’s only the first step that is hard and difficult. Once you found common ground these talks can be very pleasant and very amicable. Whenever you made a good contact, try and explain these people what your goal ( see next ) is and ask them what people you should talk to. More than once, the person you networked with will – or drag you to the other side of the room and introduce you, or give you an email address of someone that might be interesting to talk to. Whenever you have a name to drop, it will be easier, less awkward to talk to people and you already have an awesome opener : ” i got your name from…”
2. Have a goal.
Whenever you step into your car or take a seat on the bus, you must have a goal in mind. Why do you want to network? What kind of people do you want to meet? What do you want to know more about? If you step into a packed venue with a goal, it will be easier to try and find the people that will be able to let you meet that goal.
Have you ever played a murder mystery? It’s a bit like that : have a goal, try and locate the people you want to talk to and ask them who they think you should talk to.
3. It’s not what can others do for me…
It’s what can I do for others! Try to help people out as much as possible, even if you have to go out of your way to do this. Helping people out is a great way to build a bond. Try to come up with two or three things you want to call yourself an expert in. These don’t have to be big or massive things but just everyday problems that may occur in your niche. Try to think of the three problems for which most people will come to you for, for information or help. You know which ones? They are your expertise! Every time you network, tell people that whenever they have a problem with one of your expertise domains, they can contact you and that you will try to help them out.
People will remember and people will be glad to actually introduce you to other people. This way you can build your network passively, people come to you in stead of the other way around!
4. Write it down!
Get a small book that you dedicate to networking or meeting people. Whenever you networked with someone in your niche, try to put down his or her name, the phone number or email address, a small overview of where you met, what date and at what event and what you talked about. This way you will not forget people as easy and you will be able to recall their names or their preferences better whenever you meet them again.
If you do this little booklet right, you will have page after page filled with awesome contacts that will be able to help you out, teach you or even help you meet other people.
A pro tip is to glue in the business cards of the person you talked to!
5. Follow up!
Whenever you meet people on a networking event – how interesting they may be, it is very easy to forget and be forgotten. That is why it is very important to follow up within 48 hours. With following up I mean : you should send them an email, a text or even call them ( if you are brave ) to thank them for the talk. This way you show that you are willing to keep contact. This is the golden rule if you want to build lasting and strong networks with the people in your niche. Don’t send the “It was nice to meet you.” kind of text or mail. Try to make it organic and personal. Try to think back to your talk, try to remember what their passions where what they liked or what they wrote about. Use this to make contact again! Use your book!
6. Organize your own networking event!
Yes, I know. This sounds like ” hey, I’m scared of spiders. Let me organize a ‘big spider convention'”. But it isn’t. Why are you scared of talking to people? Right, because you don’t know where you will fit in, what your role is in all this and if the person would actually find you interesting. If you organize the event and if you put some effort into it, you can be sure of it that all people that accept the invitation and RSVP are in fact interested in both the event and you. Imagine, if you go for instance, to your hyperlocal writing or book convention, wouldn’t you want to talk to the person that organized it all?
7. Play a game!
You like red wine? Good! Me too. Whenever I go to networking events or conventions I always set a goal to myself of the amount of people I must speak to before I can get myself an awesome glass of red, velvety wine when I get home. Of course you don’t have to make “wine” your reward … you can make it to be chocolate or beer or a new dress or book… anything you want and anything that will push you to actually talk to the people at the event.
When I first started out I put my goal on 3 and now it’s on 8.
Let me know what your reward will be!
8. The early bird…
There’s nothing worse than arriving at a networking event when everybody is already inside and mid conversation. If you arrive early it is easier for you to break the ice and talking to small groups of people will be way less stressful than arriving in a packed and buzzing venue.
No, I’m not saying you have to go and stand in a soup kitchen (although that is actually quite nice of you to do), I’m just saying that awesome events also need a lot of awesome people that volunteer. When you’re a guest at an event it can be quite awkward… I mean, there’s a big room full of people that obviously in one way or another all know each other except for you, and when you’re done talking to the few people that are also wedged in the forgotten “limbo” at networking events, there’s nothing else to do than go and have a smoke, go to the bathroom and wash your hands for the 100th time or drink another beer and act busy on your cellphone.
Imagine if you were always busy, helping with the event. Imagine if you could actually talk to the awesome guest speakers or VIP’s because you HAD to.
Volunteering at networking events, shows and conventions makes things so much easier! Trust me.
10. Your Business card is your business!
Do you have a business card? No? You should get one! I know that nobody thinks they are useful anymore but they are! How many times have people given you business cards that you just dumped in your bag or wallet, and how many times have you thought about this person or the event where you met them while finding that card? Yes, exactly. A lot!
When making a business card, be sure to use bold colours so your business card will always stand out. Not a big fan on bold colours? Why haven’t you tried to do something awesome with your card? We live in the age of wonder and wooden and aluminium business cards are not unheard of. Have you ever gotten a USB business card or a bottle opener business card? I have… and I still remember that person’s name and company, simply because I use their cards so often.
Do something bold with your card and do not let people forget you.