Can you believe it? We’ve come to the end of another year.
And now, we are entering peak season for New Year’s resolutions. I’m just as stunned as you are!
Besides the obvious “eat better, work out more, read more than one book a year” sort of personal goals, have you thought about establishing any professional resolutions for 2019?
If not, now is a great time to do so.
As you ponder which options make sense, you may be thinking, “I really ought to get out there and network more.”
That’s a solid professional goal for just about anyone, and a worthy pursuit.
But let’s be honest, it can also be a scary one. Especially if, like me, you’re an introvert at heart.
Let’s say networking more is a realistic 2019 resolution for you. How do you keep it from going the way of “eat less pizza”? How do you stop the countless excuses—from “I’m too busy.” to “Networking events are too icky.”—from getting in your way?
It can be done, but that doesn’t make it any less intimidating. Because frankly, networking can be weird.
The impersonal business card swaps.
The awkward conversations.
The follow-up email asking if you want to get coffee from the person you were hoping would forget you.
I’ve been there, trust me.
I was on the board of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the American Marketing Association for six years. And even served as President a few years back.
But believe me when I tell you I was as turned off by networking as anyone else when I joined.
So if I can learn to embrace it, anyone can.
Make Networking Suck Less
Networking, it turns out, doesn’t have to be awful. In fact, it can be extremely rewarding.
I have made amazing friends and made connections with new business partners. Frankly, I have learned a lot about myself by attending networking events—introvert-at-heart or not.
For me, networking has been totally worth it. And I am sure you can achieve similar results, too.
The trick is to prepare beforehand. Learn to do this, and it will spare you from many of those awkward situations you’re probably dreading.
Here’s the best advice I have to help you get to where you want to be.
Before we start, I’d like to point out that Gini wrote a solid post on “How to Make the Most of Networking Events” not all that long ago.
So besides whatever I say, take her advice. That’s why we’re all here, right? Then, proceed as follows.
Have a Clear Goal in Mind
Before you step through the door in your quest to “get out there more,” have a specific goal in mind for the event.
A SMART goal. After all, we are communications pros.
If you’re not super comfortable with networking events, I suggest starting small.
For example, I like to plan on having one or two meaningful conversations with potential friends, associates or just plain, interesting people. And it doesn’t have to be a prospective client right off the bat, just someone you’d like to stay in touch with, wherever that may lead.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You don’t need to land a new client or a new job on your first outing.
You might simply want to walk away with a good book recommendation—that “read more than one book a year” goal isn’t going to achieve itself.
Regardless, if you can set a reasonable goal and achieve it—however simple it may be—you’ll be happy you did it. That’s called networking success, and it’s something you can build on in the future.
Start now: Set a goal for the next networking event you attend. Write it down. Take it seriously. And know you can succeed if you stick to the plan.
Plan Ahead and Shine
Something which made me apprehensive when I first began attending networking events was quickly running out of things to say.
I was introducing myself to someone and saying, “Hi, my name is Lukas. I work at akhia communications, an agency in Northeast Ohio”… and then having zero plan after that.
Honestly, I probably introduced myself to Gini in this way when we first met, maybe throwing “I like your blog” in there, too. It’s not a great start.
So, to avoid this situation, think ahead.
I suggest having a few genuine icebreaker questions ready to keep the conversation advancing.
For instance, I ask how long the person has been living in the area and what their favorite restaurant or place to visit is.
It gives them a chance to talk about something which isn’t strictly business-related. It also makes the conversation not just about me, creating the opportunity for further conversation if common interests or experiences emerge.
You might ask about their background, their interests, their professional role models.
No matter where the conversation goes, remember, the point isn’t to be impressive at this stage; “charming” will suffice.
Be complimentary, never one-up anyone, ask for nothing, and just be real. Be likable by being yourself.
Start now: Spend a couple of minutes and jot down your three “go-to conversation topics.” If it helps to write them on a piece of paper and stick it in your purse or wallet, then go for it.
Genuine Close, Appropriate Follow-up
Inevitably, you will find someone with whom you’d like to stay in touch. That’s what networking is about!
So as you’re wrapping up conversations, it’s totally OK to ask for a business card if you genuinely plan to reach out later.
You may even want to jot down a note on the back of the card about the discussion. Later, this will help you remember the context around the conversation.
After the event, reach out in the way you’d want someone to reach out to you.
Don’t blow up someone’s voicemail box. But, don’t wait two weeks to send a connection request on LinkedIn, either.
Focus the bulk of your follow-up discussions where you’re strongest, whether that’s in-person, via phone or written message.
I like to start online. Andy Crestodina put together a comprehensive “online networking guide” that’s worth checking out if you need ideas for digital touchpoints.
In any case, be sure you’re reaching out punctually, showing gratitude, and focusing on forming real relationships where it makes the most sense.
Bonus points if you send physical “thank you” notes. People LOVE those.
Start now: Commit a set amount of time each week to reach out and connect with professional contacts online, whether you just met them or have known them for years. Consider making a contact database and updating it like a media list. You’ll be proud of yourself when you look back and see all you’ve done to nurture your network.
You’ve Got This
Even with these tips in mind, your first step or two towards a resolution of networking effectively in 2019 may still feel uncomfortable.
And that’s okay. The more you attend these events—especially if you’re using these techniques—the more you will begin to feel at ease.
So give it a shot! And if it helps, rope a friend into going with you. Just promise you won’t only talk to them the whole time.
The interactions will become more familiar. The people around you will progressively be counted as friends, not strangers.
The successes from previous outings will add up. And before you know it, people are complimenting you on how great a network you have.
It may sound weird now, but it’s the reality.
So, don’t be intimidated. You’ve got this, I promise.
If all else fails, realize everyone else at the event probably feels the same way you do. We’re all in this together.
So 2019 networking events, look out! I’ll see you out there.
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash