Networking: overly rehearsed introductions, forgetting people’s names and offering business cards. Its importance is reiterated to us from early high school all the way up to when we are years into a career. Cocktail hours, association events, presentations, lunches – there seem to be never ending calendar invites that offer opportunities to network. Yet they all seem to have one thing in common: even for the most extroverted people, they can be awkward.
We recently attended an event where Matt was a guest speaker for the America’s Future Foundation – Lansing chapter. I was able to hide behind the excuse of “setting up the PowerPoint” for the majority of it but knew that, especially for young professionals like myself, networking is crucial to establishing roots in a new city.
Don’t stay in your comfort zone.
When you know someone at a networking event, a lot of the pressure to mingle is off. But the purpose of networking is to create new connections and though catching up is fun, it’s important to make sure you step out of your comfort zone to meet new people. By working to create and build new relationships, you’re opening yourself up to a world of potential.
Use what’s around you to start that first conversation.
Going into a networking event with a general idea of some things to make conversation about is very helpful. If you need something on the fly though, take a look around and find something to initiate that first discussion. Whether it’s talking with someone about the food while in line or commenting on something that happened on the news lately, having something light and fun is a good opener. Maybe even venture into the presidential election? Tread lightly here.
Utilize social networks.
One of the most forgotten parts of networking is to actually connect online. A simple LinkedIn connection or Twitter follow will do the trick, but a quick email saying it was good to connect will work as well. Everyone’s lives are busy and hectic, so make yourself a bit more memorable by sending a follow up.
Change is uncomfortable for everyone and it’s very easy to huddle around a table with a couple people you know. But having a great network of connections is extremely beneficial and will come in handy when you least expect it.