I know, I know, networking sucks. It’s such an awkward experience: You walk into a room where you don’t know anyone and you’re supposed to magic up an interesting conversation and build a relationship in the span of a few minutes.
I’ve found that the more you network, the easier it gets because it becomes more natural, in turn making it even easier. Practice makes perfect. Every time.
But if you’re just starting to get the hang of it and don’t know how to shake your case of the awkwards, I’ve got three tried-and-true tips for you to feel confident walking in to any room.
Walk up to a small group of 2-3 people and ask, “Can I join you?”
You might be having flashbacks to high school, freshman year, when you were looking for a seat in the cafeteria and trying to figure out the friendliest place to sit. But everyone is at this networking event for the same reason: to meet people. So when you walk up to a group of people and ask if you can join, they will—without doubt or hesitation—joyously say yes. They want to meet you, too.
Don’t ask, “What do you do?”
It feels awkward and forced to immediately ask what a person does for work. If gives the impression that you’re a vulture on the hunt, and you might as well ask, “so what can you do for me?” Yes, you’re there to forge business relationships, but the key to productive networking is to forge meaningful business relationships. That starts by simply getting to know a person. If you’re at a loss of questions that toe a very thin line between personal and business, just ask how they heard about the event (my personal favorite ice breaker). Or get personal and say you’re looking for date ideas for you and your significant other, and ask if what they like to do for fun in your city.
Forget your business cards
I know, I know, how else are you supposed to exchange information? If you want that level of security, go ahead and bring them, trade cards, and then wait to never hear from your new contacts again. I like to hold off until the conversation naturally turns to exchanging information and only trade cards if it feels productive.
And remember, if you take their card, you should definitely email the next day with a quick, “nice to meet you, I’d love to continue our convo over coffee.” Then offer two dates when you’re available.
You’d be surprised at how many people don’t follow up, so that part is a must. Also, try exchanging information via social media—many people are connecting via Instagram in order to stay in touch rather than using business cards. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to learn more about them and connect over non-business topics (OMG I love cute puppy videos, too! #dogsofinstagram). Of course, you always want to be genuine with your connections—don’t pretend to like something you don’t. Always look for common ground—it’ll be easier than you think.