Networking can feel like a vapid exercise. There’s a lot of patting people on the back, listening to uninteresting stories and wishing you could be anywhere else. Unfortunately, so many careers are built on who you know rather than what you know, so the process is essential.
That’s not to say there are no positives to networking. If done properly, it can naturally introduce you to some amazing people who open the door to new opportunities and become fantastic colleagues. That requires making a meaningful connection though, so what is the secret to doing just that?
Think quality, not quantity
Who you speak to has always been more important than how many people you speak to.
Your time is precious, as is everyone else’s at the event. You can’t afford to waste your evening trying to get a word in with everyone, especially when only a handful of people are worth talking to in the first place. This isn’t a contest to get the most connections on Linkedin.
There may only be one person worth trying to build a meaningful connection with at the whole event, so don’t be afraid to go out of your way to find them. This isn’t an exercise in making friends, you’re there for work, and people will understand that.
There’s no benefit in chatting for hours with people outside your industry who can’t offer you anything. Don’t be afraid to move on from them if they’re not worth your limited time. Just politely explain that there are lots of people there you’re looking to speak to, they’re probably thinking the same thing!
How can you make the best quality connection within a couple of hours? If you’re only able to exchange a few words you won’t stick out in that person’s mind the next morning while they’re making coffee, whereas a quality conversation might do just that.
Have confidence in your questions
If you can’t speak with confidence, you’ll struggle to make any meaningful connections in life. If your voice lacks conviction and authority it will make it difficult to assert yourself among new people you want to impress.
People often remember the confidence with which a question is asked, rather than the question itself. Likewise, a good question can be distracted from if the person asking it stumbles through their words. It can get the whole conversation off to a difficult start, especially in a group setting, where someone can quickly steal your thunder.
Don’t mumble or overthink what you’re going to ask, just be clear and concise with your questions and speak with authority, without sounding like you’re too smart to be there. As The EveryGirl blog writes, finding confidence in networking is often about having an elevator pitch in your head. Rehearsing questions and situations in your head can help you prepare for the real thing.
If you’ve always struggled with confidence, another person can sometimes bring it out of you. In the same way that a relationship or a good friendship can help you feel better about yourself and your personality, a life coach can help you find that confidence within yourself and practice a solid first impression. Orion’s method is one of many life coaching courses eulogizing the potential of breakthrough coaching, which helps people to recognize the blocks in their life and knock them down, such as a lack of confidence in speaking. If this can take you one step closer to a more meaningful connection, it may be worth looking into.
Speak outside of a group
While networking events often lend themselves to speaking in groups and force its participants into wider conversations, it really pays to try and make time for individual conversations in order to craft meaningful connections.
If you feel you’ve really connected with someone and you could do some good work together, ask for a moment of their time away from a group. Try and make an individual impression, without harassing them or taking them away from something they’re enjoying. Find a time where you can use their name and speak to them directly, all of which will come together to form a stronger connection.
To find the opportunity to have this one-to-one conversation, consider doing some research prior to the event into the people you’d most like to speak to. After you’ve been initially introduced to them, take them aside or come back to them later to ask about “this article I saw from you that was really enlightening” or anything else you feel may show your attention to detail. It can help you stand out from the rest of the crowd by showing you have the initiative to do your research and make the most out of the event.
Don’t let an evening of networking go to waste just because the event ended. Following up on key conversations is half of the work.
Following up can be as minuscule or grand as you need it to be. A simple email saying you enjoyed speaking to the person the night before will help make yourself seem more memorable and show you’re open to opportunities or another meeting at least. It shows that you appreciated the connection, which makes them feel more comfortable about doing the same and following up. They may have an opportunity for you, but without some kind of follow up, they have no idea you’re interested.
If you feel like you had a very productive session with a lot of potentially meaningful connections, creating a follow-up event is a great way to get these people together again. Running an event through Meetup or a similar app is simple and shows you have the initiative and drive to make your connections count. Significant people will appreciate you putting in so much effort just to get in front of them again.
Creating a meaningful connection at a networking event or in any business situation is an intimidating task. These are just a few suggestions to help you stand out and take away a little more from your evenings in the conference room. Just remember to make yourself memorable and be professional throughout.
Laura May Bio
Laura May is Digital Editor at Just Another Magazine. We write about beauty, fashion, lifestyle, relationships, travel, trends and anything else that matters to you. Name throwing you off? Don’t take it too seriously – we intend to stand out from the crowd.