We’ve all heard the phrase, “Your network is your net worth,” meaning that who you know has a direct correlation to your professional success. Most of us also know that public speaking is the number one fear among people (with death running a close second). I consider networking public speaking because, when networking, the reality is that most people you speak with will be strangers. It might be one on one or three on one, but it’s still in a public place and a professional setting.
Here are some tips to help you overcome the anxiety of the situation:
Find a networking buddy (or two)
Bringing a friend to a networking event has loads of benefits. Your buddy will help you remain calm, bringing a sense of familiarity to an unfamiliar place. It’s also just easier to start a conversation when two people walk up to a group instead of one. Your friend can make sure you don’t have too many drinks (if it’s a happy hour type of event), and will nudge you if your conversation starts going awry (which can happen when drinks are involved). Networking buddies are also wonderful exit strategies for the inevitable conversation from hell that every networking event has in store. They’ll simply say, “Oh I see (insert random name) that I wanted you to meet before the night was over! Would you please excuse us? It was so great chatting with you.” BAM! Just like that, you’re outta there.
Research the event
Who wants to go to an event about big data if they’re trying to get a job in non-profit law? It’s important to read up on networking events that you find, as lots of them will have specific themes for specific industries. Although there’s certainly a lot of cross-collaboration, you don’t want to be caught out there with no knowledge of what’s being discussed. If there’s a speaker, research them as well, so that if there’s an opportunity to meet, you can ask interesting and well thought out questions. Prepare for the event as you would for an interview, because you never know what opportunities might arise.
Look your best
This isn’t about respectability politics, it’s another element of research. Folks will dress differently at a networking event for corporate law than they will for a networking event in Silicon Valley. The latter is often more casual. The adage “dress for the job you want” shouldn’t be lost here. If you know you’re going to a networking event (and especially if you’re looking for a job), make sure your hair, nails and clothes are on point. If you’re like me and you hate ironing your clothes, take them to the dry cleaner. You’re making an impression with your appearance before you ever utter one word. Make sure it’s a good one.
Have business cards on deck
No one wants to get caught out there looking unprofessional. All night, you’ll be hearing, “So, do you have a card?” Knowing this and not having business cards will only add to your feelings of uncertainty. There are tons of cheap business card printing services online, so you don’t have to break the bank. Before you get them printed, check in with your networking buddy to see what they think of your design. It’s always great to get feedback, but remember that you make the rules around what you’d like to share. You can put only the method that you’re comfortable being contacted through, so if you’d prefer email only, feel free to leave your phone number off the card or set up a Google number instead.
Update your LinkedIn profile and use it to follow up
Now that you’ve left the networking event, it’s time to follow up. Remember: Facebook is not LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not Facebook. Make sure all of your work is updated, you have an engaging yet professional status, and that your profile picture is professional. This is your digital business card, and many important connections and employers look to this tool to source candidates. It’s also important to add everyone who gave you their card on LinkedIn after an event. Don’t just add them with the template message, remind them of where you met them and why you’d like to stay in touch. Keep it interesting and genuine, and pat yourself on the back for overcoming that anxiety and putting yourself out there.
Have more tips for those feeling nervous about networking? Add them in the comments below!
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