“Business networking is a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.” –Wikipedia. Well hello most boring quote in the world! Can’t you just imagine expressionless zombies in suits shaking hands over glasses of bourbon? We've been thinking a lot about networking lately, and we've determined this: networking is about so much more than Meeting People and Shaking Hands. (But no offense to bourbon. It’s delicious.)
Okay. So what is networking? And more importantly: how can we be good at it? Boiled down to its essence, networking is an opportunity to make connections. Here’s the catch: even if you’re incredibly outgoing, entering a room full of strangers is intimidating. At most networking events you’ll find people clumping together with coworkers, or making meaningful eye contact with their smartphones; when what we digitally-savvy, forward-thinking social creatures really want is to make connections. Everyone can get better at networking, and here is the good news – it’s totally possible!
As a curious social monkey and near-professional blog peruser, I have composed for you a list of tips and tricks to make your next networking experience the best ever. Find the ones that work for you, and test them out soon at one of Boston's many networking events! (The third installation of the raved-about 100 Beers Party is on Tuesday 3/20. See you there?)
1. Walk around the room by yourself. Even if you’re the socialest of social butterflies, this idea probably scares you. That’s okay! Hold tight to your drink, wave goodbye to your Words With Friends games, and stroll the room confidently. This isn’t middle school, and being alone won’t lead to eating lunch in a bathroom stall. When you’re alone, you have the opportunity to look approachable, inviting people to talk to you. You’ll make connections while hardly doing any work. Isn’t that the best?
2. Make introductions. Do you know someone at this event? Use that person to meet other people! You can do this in two equally awesome ways. 1. Ask for an introduction. Does your outgoing coworker know a lot of people? Ask her to introduce you to someone. 2. If you know more than one person at an event, introduce those people to each other. This is easy to do, and it will create the impression that you’re a social guru who knows tons of people. Word will get around, and soon people will be tripping over themselves wanting to meet you.
3. Say something to a stranger. Aside from flat-out insulting someone, there's no way to go wrong. You don’t need to prepare a brilliant opener to start a discussion with someone - just say something. It could be as small as “so, why are you at this event?” I think we can all agree that networking events are awkward, but if you acknowledge that, you can use it to your advantage. Have a sense of humor about the awkwardness of approaching a stranger, suck it up, and go for it!
4. Be approachable. Leave your phone in your pocket, look up, and keep your arms uncrossed. These are signs that you’re available to start a conversation. If someone so much as glances in your direction, take the initiative and smile back, offer a handshake, or introduce yourself. You'll be glad you did.
5. Make connections without being too self-promotional. You’re networking to meet people, so be yourself. It’s not a job interview, and you shouldn’t go nuts promoting yourself. Sometimes it’s better to find a way to help someone else, instead of searching for someone who can help you. It’s great to trade contact information, but don’t spread your business card like Smallpox. Maybe you'll find the perfect candidate for your company's open position, or maybe you'll find a hilarious Twitter friend. Either way, you're making connections, and that's what this is all about.
Hopefully these tips will help you take ownership of your networking opportunities, and totally rule the world. Remember kids, networking is fun!
Do you have any tips to add? Share them in the comments! Oh, and if you’re going to 100 Beers, I’m expecting you to high five me.