This professionalism networking post is brought to you by Forbes. Learn how to make your next networking event rock with these tips!
Whether you’re starting your own business, searching for the perfect co-founder, transitioning to a new job—networking can be your life support. It can propel you to the next level professionally, while simultaneously enhancing different aspects of your personal life. Treat networking as if you were cooking your ideal “soup.” We need to incorporate a select set of ingredients that will give us that “wow” factor (taste). You want your soup to leave an impression—for all the right reasons. You want people to keep asking you for more soup! In networking to develop lasting relationships, it’s important to be genuine in all actions. You must listen, be patient, and understand the needs of others— while also understanding your own needs too.
Let’s Say –It’s the middle of the week and you just received an invite to another networking event. You may scan your invite for the hosts, glance at the venue information, description, and check the winning statement— and say, “Is it worth it?”
Rule 1: Network with Purpose:
There are several networking events taking place each day. All networking functions come with a price, time. Your time is valuable. You have to assess key reasons as to why you need to be there. There should be a purpose. If you don’t have much time to give, you should never spread yourself too thin by going to the wrong places. You need to select appropriately:
- Industry: What industry is this function appealing to? Is this event known to provide a diverse set of professionals? What are your needs? Always ask yourself, “What are my needs?” If you’re in need of building a professional relationship with someone in public relations, you may invest your time to networking events provided by organizations like NYWICI, AWC, or The National Communication Association – rather than a function that appeals primarily to engineers seeking contracting work. Increase your chances.
- Cost: The more you spend does not always yield a positive correlation with the quality of your networking experience. Have you heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover? “ Well, don’t judge a networking function’s quality by its price only. (See testimonials tip below.)
- Testimonials: What’s the buzz? Successful networking functions usually like to highlight previous events through featured testimonials, reviews, or photos. A picture is worth a thousand words. In the age of social-media, you can usually find ways to track conversations about an event from a retweet, like, or yes—a hashtag.
- Substance: People often select networking socials based on its structure to determine if it aligns best to their professional or personal needs. Let’s revisit that question you should always ask yourself, “What are my needs?” Do you prefer a simple mix & mingle or one that highlights guest speakers to topics you care about? If you have a desire to sharpen certain skills, you may lean towards events that highlight expert speakers, panel discussions, or seminars that address your topics of concern.
Rule 2: Research: Be Informed
You’ve narrowed your choices of networking events to go to this month. Everything seems great. What do you do? You research. Strategic networking practices work best when you have a limited amount of time to make your mark—the best impression, which is oftenthe case.
- Host/Sponsors: Who is hosting this event? Who are their sponsors? It’s always good to know their background information. You may pick up on similarities, which may lead to a great conversation. It starts with just by one conversation to lead to a valued business relationship. The hosts at events are usually busy, which is why the few moments you have with them should be meaningful. After all, they’re not just hosting the event for you. They have to cater to other guests too. Make your mark.
- Guest List: If you’re lucky, some events post the guest list of those attending their functions ahead of time. You can quickly see individuals who may be within or outside of your industry. You don’t need to memorize the entire list or where each person comes from. You can make a mental note of 3-5 persons who you definitely may want to speak to. Perhaps, the host assistant’s could connect you prior to or during the event to your guest of interest.
- Panel Discussion/ Guest Speakers/ Seminars: I truly enjoy networking events that include a panel discussion. It’s a huge bonus to receive a lesson, advice, or talk from an industry expert. Usually, the theme or topics are released to guests prior to the event.
>> [STAND OUT TIP]: Most panel discussions would have a moment to discuss the background of each highlighted panelist. Seize the moment. (If you genuinely want to know) Prepare a question to ask a panelist– related to their background. Is there something you always wanted to know? Now, may be your chance! Stand tall, introduce yourself, and ask your question. It takes courage to stand before a crowd. It will certainly leave a lasting impression, if you are confident and maintain good eye-contact.
Be memorable –
Rule 3: Wear a “conversation starter,” without breaking your wallet:
I recently had a conversation with a friend who said, “Why are you dressed up to do some research at the library?” Personally, I did not consider myself dressed up at the time. She proceeded to say, “Well, my boss always tells me that I should dress up for the next job I want.” She made a lot of sense.
Flipping through the pages of the July 2012 Issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, I came across an interesting study cited within the article titled, “When Envy Strikes.” It said, “Whether you like it or not, most people are automatically sizing up the crowd.—who’s smarter, who’s tougher, who’s more beautiful, says Dr. Richard Smith, PhD, editor of the anthology Envy: Theory, and Research.
More relevant to networking situations, researchers found that strangers start to assess each other immediately once they’re in a room.
Don’t be intimidated by this finding, use it to your advantage.
– Wear a “Conversation Starter”: There is a sea of people who attend networking events. The first thing that they will notice is your physical appearance. You want to display a polished professional look— don’t be afraid to show some personality too, stand out! (See Stand out Tip).
>> [STAND OUT TIP]: Adding a unique brooch, tie, scarf or necklace to your outfit can add some zest to an otherwise monochromatic look. It’s even better if you’re choosing to wear a piece that holds sentimental value to you. It makes for a wonderful look and good conversation, which is meaningful.
- Dress for Success: The friend I mentioned earlier provided great insight, “Dress for the Next…” Dress in the fashion that commands the most appropriate address for you. Dress like you’re the president of your own company, you’ll be addressed as such. Dress in the way you wish to be addressed.
RollingOut.Com interviewed, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, to give insight on the best ways to shop on a budget with their article, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche Helps You Look Like Rodeo Drive Material on a Walmart Budget., written by Terry Shropshire.
In the article, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche says that the best places to shop are at thrift stores in wealthy neighborhoods, where plentiful store items can found to be fairly new or gently used. She later describes a not-for-profit organization, which she hosts financial literacy seminars for called, Dressed for Success.
Dress for Success’ mission is to promote economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life (dressforsuccess.org).
Aliche is a best-selling author of her book, The One Week Budget. You may visit her website here.
Rule 4: Treat your business card like a credit card, give by connection not by sight:
Who has enough business cards to start their own collectibles? I do, from designs by custom, Vistaprintto Moo. One thing, they’re not my own business cards! Networking is about building genuine connections with people. It should never be about dispersing as much promotional materials out to as many people you can see in the room.
Tango: Do the “Tango” with your conversations! In networking, you should take the time to listen as much as you take the time to speak. Some enthusiastic networkers may forget this and occupy 95% of the conversation, making it completely one-sided. In these circumstances, relationships are rarely built. You won’t have any knowledge of your listener’s needs, wants, and passions. You may find it frustrating to detect similarities to build support, friendships, or partnerships. You can’t because you did all the talking.
Don’t be that networker. It’s tacky.
1- Look at networking as a conversation
2- Be who you are
3- Don’t feel small
4- It’s okay to ask for something
Julia Wilson concludes by saying, “When networking, always be yourself and confidently share who you are with others. People will be impressed with someone who is passionate, and if you stay in contact you never know where the connection may lead. ”
Treat business cards like a credit card, be selective with use
Be selective with who you offer your business cards to. You should aim to offer your card to those who you have made a connection with. You’ll have a higher chance in following-up successfully after the event and start to develop a professional relationship.
What networking tips have worked for you?
Amanda A. Ebokosia is a freelance writer, speaker, and founder of The Gem Project, Inc. The Gem Project is a not-for-profit organization that assists youth in leading and benefiting from educational enrichment programs, which simultaneously hone their skills of leadership and community organizing. These programs are developed by the Gem Project. The Gem Project has been featured in: HelloGiggles, The White House Blog (Young Americans), The Star Ledger, Newark Live, Yahoo Voices, and others. You may find her on twitter: @ebokosia or her personal site, amandaebokosia.com.