If you are anything like me, you see networking as a necessary evil. When you have to choose between an evening of “networking with your peers” or binge-watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, Crazy Eyes will win every time. It’s not because you don’t like your peers, it’s more that you barely have enough hours in your day to return calls from your friends, or set up that meeting with your mentor, that when you do finally have a break in your schedule, you want to focus on your current relationships rather than building new ones. Am I right?
Well, I hate to break the news to you, but Crazy Eyes isn’t going to help your career much. And you’ve never walked away from one of those networking events kicking yourself for going, have you? As hard as it was to get yourself to go, you probably made some great new connections or at least enjoyed some free bruschetta.
So, for all you other introverts out there, here are some tips to make those networking events more enjoyable, less awkward, and worthy of your precious free time.
- Bring a Friend: Kill two birds with one stone! Invite a friend who has similar interests to your own and who you have been meaning to catch up with anyway. This can eliminate some of that initial fear of walking into an event and standing alone in the corner (or staring at your phone praying that someone texts or calls you ASAP). It also makes breaking the ice a little bit easier when approaching other groups at the event. This works especially well if your friend is an extrovert! Just don’t lose sight of why you went to this event in the first place and end up spending the whole time with the person you went with.
- Have a Plan: Determine ahead of time what your purpose for going is and make a goal. For example, maybe you are looking for a new job and want to get your name out there to prospective employers. Set a goal for how many people you want to make a connection with (maybe it’s only 5 quality connections or maybe you are on a mission to collect as many business cards as possible so you can follow-up in more depth later). Maybe you are new to the area and just want to meet other like-minded people. In that case, your goal may be to set up coffee or lunch dates with 3 other people who work near you. Whatever it may be, setting a goal will force you to stay until you have reached it and helps you ask more targeted questions when meeting new people.
- Practice at Work: Practice makes perfect, right? One of the best places to practice your networking skills is with those you work with. The more often you connect with someone new one-on-one the easier it becomes to make it a part of your normal life. Connecting with new people comes very easily to some people and for others it is a muscle that needs to be continuously exercised. If you’re a gym rat like I am, treat it like leg day. You never skip leg day.
Now that you’re fully armed with new skills to make the most of your networking activity, make sure you mark your calendar for July 15th for the annual Summer Networking Luau on the waterfront in Boston! Grab your best Hawaiian gear (there will be prizes!), a friend, and an appetite and spend a few hours letting loose with fellow Boston marketers!