The Networking Conundrum

Networking is the eternal conundrum that is both desired and dreaded by nearly all business professionals. It can often be awesome and awkward at the same time.  Every instance is an exhibition game in which we must practice, perform, score and rebound all at once.

The Secret’s Out

It’s not just you!  Almost everyone approaches networking with some degree of anxiety, whether they consider it a necessary evil, a small-talk jungle or simply a distraction from more important matters.  But if, as they say, it’s who you know that counts, then as ambitious professionals, we simply can’t stay in the comfort zone of the warm bench.

Get in the Game

With the opportunity, conundrum and nerves in mind, here are 7 big plays to up your networking game:

1.     Prep in advance – if you have a roster, find some folks you want to be sure to meet and talk to. If no list is available, think about who else might be there, and be ready with an answer to the question “how can I help you” with your goals and their likely perspectives in mind. See #7 for more questions and conversation-starting ideas.

2.     Share your stats – business cards seem obvious, but you might be surprised how often people forget them. Even if you are in transition, it is still important to have a business card to hand to someone offering to help you. If you don’t have a job title, use your LinkedIn tagline!  Vistaprint.com is a great and affordable resource – keep it simple and get some cards in your pocket asap.

3.     Arrive early, ready to play – the earlier you get there, the more nametags will still be on the table – take a look and see who’s coming. Engage the organizers in a conversation about the event, the registration list, the organization… and you’re off!

4.     Go for the assist– if you came with someone, split up!  Ask someone you know to introduce you to someone you don’t. After you talk for a few minutes, go meet someone else together.  ALWAYS leave with a way – and a reason – to reconnect later. Exchange business cards as a rule, and even connect on LinkedIn right then and there.

5.     Be brave and generous – just say hi, jump in, or even better, invite someone else into your circle. No one likes to break up an intense conversation, so keep your circles open and your eyes out for people who look lost. They will thank you for it, and they might be your next great referral.

6.     Put your cards on the table – literally and figuratively. If you’re joining a table, introduce yourself to each person before you sit down.  If you’re already sitting when someone joins, stand up to meet them, and introduce them to someone else at the table.  Exchange cards, and proceed with #7.

7.     Ask questions – ask what brought the other person why they came, how they heard about the event, or if they’re involved with the organization. But hands down, “how can I help you” is the best and most productive question you can ask. It not only makes the other person feel good, but it almost invariably leads to reciprocation, and then you both win.

Just remember – you’re all there for similar reasons, and can learn from each other as well as from the event. Everyone can use a little help sometimes. Follow these plays, and soon you will be the one in the room that everyone else wants to meet!

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