Networking does not come naturally. Sure, we all know the rare social butterfly that has the confidence of a king and the brain of a Rolodex, but most of us experience nerves at the thought of attending social events where we’ll have to talk to strangers. But when you’re starting a business that could literally live or die by who you know, strong networking skills are a necessity. Here are 7 tips for ditching your nerves at the door and making the connections that’ll help your business thrive.
Our gut instinct when we feel nervous is to surround ourselves with people that we know and trust, but your best friend can quickly become your worst buffer at a networking event. You will either spend the whole evening introducing each other, with confident friend feeling responsible for making sure shy friend has a good time, or get stuck next to the cheese with your familiarity convincing the other attendees that you’re in the middle of a private conversation they shouldn’t intrude on. Networking events are for getting to know the people you don’t already know and, surprisingly, the best way to do this is to look like you don’t know anyone and would love to be invited into a conversation.
2) Bring a beer bottle opener
Many NYC events serve beer during the networking portion of the night and there often isn’t a bottle opener to be found. Even if you don’t drink, you will quickly become the most popular person in the room if you can help people open their drinks without trying to bang them against the table. When they thank you, lead with a joke or observation and you’ve got instant conversation. No need to add beer.
3) Always bring cards
A contact’s opinion of you is made in your first meeting and nothing says unprepared like, “I don’t have a card right now.” So always show up with a firm handshake, a smile and your contact info.
4) Follow up the day after receiving a card
It’s unlikely that a contact will remember you well several days after you first meet. Capitalize on your initial impression by following up with a short email the day after that contains a few specific details from your conversation and ends with a question. Questions initiate conversation and act as a signal that you are expecting a response
5) Don’t talk about the weather
The weather is not a conversation topic. It is a signal that you have nothing to talk about and conversations begun in this manner usually end in an awkward pause before you both try to find someone else to talk with.
6) Let people end conversations with you
It can be difficult to let that contact you really need exit the room after only a brief conversation, but part of any good business relationship is clear boundaries and you demonstrate yours by letting them leave. As long as you have their name you can reconnect online or at a future networking event, but continuing to pursue conversation with someone that has excused themselves only results in giving you a reputation for being creepy and/or desperate.
7) Always go for one drink after an event
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that when an event ends the networking opportunities are over. Many events invite attendees to come to a bar or nightclub after a presentation has ended and this is where all the real networking takes place. People let their guards down a bit and you will find yourself having more memorable conversations that give you the opportunity to really get to know someone. If you don’t drink you can grab a soda water and if you do drink and want to be at the top of your game then try to stick to one drink so you can look casual but not sloppy.