Some people think that networking is a waste of time.
However, in actuality, research continues to show that careers and businesses are still being built and expanded as a result of professional relationships. People are continually hiring without posting job announcements widely (and sometimes are not posting job announcements at all), and people are still purchasing from business owners who they know, like, and trust. I honestly believe that one of my business coaching clients was able to more than 10x her revenues based on transforming her networking strategy through our coaching relationship, and I've definitely had career coaching clients who received their next opportunity as a result of the work we did to enhance their networking strategy.
Networking can provide you with a priceless opportunity to build relationships...if done well, and if not,... well, it can definitely feel like you've wasted gas and time that could have been spent doing something more productive.
Let me tell you why some of my clients and I have struggled with networking in the past, and then I'll share a few strategies that can guide you towards maximizing the value of your time at your next networking event.
Here are some struggles that my clients and I have faced in networking that maybe you have experienced in the past:
- Building great relationships at ongoing networking events, but not knowing how to transition those relationships to opportunities.
- Spending too long speaking with someone where there is no feeling of connection, afraid to cut the conversation short.
- Not speaking to anyone you don't know at the networking event (It happens!).
- Feeling out of place at a networking event, because the individuals there don't connect to your career or business interests.
- Attending a conference or other professional development opportunity in hopes of networking, and feeling like you've learned a lot, though you haven't met very many people at all.
The list above has just a few networking "No Nos" and below, find some strategies to keep in mind to make your next networking event a "win" and not a "loss" for you:
Pre-Event Research - Should you attend?
- Research the event, and find out if it's truly a good fit for you to attend at all.
- Ask yourself, "What are the top 3 most valuable results that I can get out of attending this event?"
- Then ask yourself, "Why are those results so important to me?"
- Most importantly, ask yourself, "How do I need to prepare to get those top 3 most valuable results?"
Pre-Event Research - Who will be at the networking event, and how will I connect with them?
- If you can have a conversation with the event coordinator, do so before the event. Thank them for putting on the event, let them know you're interested in attending the event, and also let them know that you want to make sure you take as much value as you can from attending. Ask about how many people might be attending the event, what industries they usually represent, what kinds of roles they usually have in those industries, if networking will be structured or unstructured, or any other kind of relevant question you might have. Prepare yourself emotionally to spend much of your time with individuals at the event that you don't already know.
- Then, research any specific individuals you know might be at the event that you want to meet. Develop a plan to connect with those specific individuals by the end of the event.
- Prepare to arrive early and leave late. That's when some of the most substantial relationships are made. This especially comes in handy at conferences or meetings where a lot of the content is structured. Arriving early and leaving late gives you much more time to go deeper in conversation with fellow attendees.
Strategize - Know how to start and end conversations.
- Have a few conversation starters ready to avoid an awkward conversation. You can always ask someone where they're from, where they work, why they came to the event, what they think about the event or other questions that are relevant. You can Google "networking conversation starters" and you'll get some awesome ideas for how to start or carry on conversations.
- If you're not connecting very well with someone but have a limited time at the event to meet individuals, it might just be time to move on from that conversation. In that case, you may want to insert yourself and say something like, "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to go over and say hello to someone, and I think they're going to leave. It was really great meeting you." Or you can make a statement that transitions well to a closing statement, such as, "How long do you think you'll stay at the event this evening," or "Do you have a busy week this week at work," or anything that might be appropriate to say to lead into, "Well, it was really good meeting you. I hope you [enjoy the rest of the evening, or have a great time at this event, etc.]"
Strategize - Know how to transition conversations to results and opportunities.
- If possible, you should definitely have a list of who you want to connect to when at the event. If you don't have a specific list of who you want to connect with at an event, develop a specific number of people you'd like to connect to at the event. Then, develop a number of people you'd like to arrange a chat with outside of the networking event to get to know them more. If you can meet in person for coffee or lunch, that often works even better to build a substantial professional relationship.
- If you're looking for a job or looking for business, only transition to asking about those kinds of opportunities after you've developed a rapport with someone and feel like they have developed a positive impression of you.
- If it's appropriate, during a 1:1 conversation at the event or after the event, definitely ask the question, "Do you know who else I should speak to who [insert appropriate ask for advice or someone in a field you want to get into or a target market you want to connect with]?" This is how you can exponentially increase your network of relevant contacts, whether you're asking about who else you should speak to at the event or who else you can connect to even beyond the event.
These are just a few substantial strategies that can work for individuals at all levels of career or business when it comes to truly maximize the value of your time networking. I hope they're extremely helpful to you and anyone you might share this post with.
Definitely email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you find the strategies above to be helpful!
Also, if you're feeling like you could benefit from greater accountability and/or strategy when it comes to moving your career or business forward, definitely comment below or email me at email@example.com, so we can talk about how I can support you!