There is a reason I am a writer. I tend to express myself best through the written word, where I can carefully craft my sentences and ensure I use the proper vocabulary.

In person, I’m a bit of a spaz. I tend to ramble and use a lot of “ums” and “ahhs” as I search for the word I’m looking for. The mere thought of edging myself into a group or conversation with people I don’t know sends slight chills down my spin. It’s  only after circling the room numerous times that I can build up the courage to walk up to someone and introduce myself.

Unfortunately for introverts like me, networking is truly the only way to get ahead in business. So, Women’s Post has compiled a few select tips that should help you at that next conference or public event.

 

Do a bit of research before hand

What kind of people will be at the event? Do a little bit of research on the potential players of the industry. This will allow you to find some common ground and potential conversation starters. For example, I heard you merged your business last year — how has the transition been? I find that this research also helps calm me down. The more I read, the more comfortable I feel about networking.

Start small

Set small and reasonable expectations for yourself. For example, get at least five business cards or speak with three executives. This way, the networking event doesn’t seem so daunting. You can also set a time limit for yourself — stay at the event for at least an hour before making an excuse to leave. The more events you attend, the bigger your expectations may be.

Arrive on time

People generally have this innate instinct to arrive fashionably late.  The argument derives from past experience — I arrived on time and no one else was there or the hosts were still setting up. Generally, networking events are well managed and are meant for punctual people. If you arrive late, the other participants may already be huddling in their groups, making it difficult to get in the conversation. If you are part of the select group that arrives on time, it will be easier to

Ask open-ended questions 

Conversation is the most important aspect of a networking event.  Make sure to push those nerves aside and actually listen to what people are talking about. Don’t simply ask what people do for a living. Ask lots of open-ended questions relating to their work, politics, or hot topics being discussed at that moment — anything that will incite further conversation. Always remember, especially upon an initial interaction, it’s best to focus on the person/people you are speaking with instead of becoming the center of attention.

Fake confidence

Not everyone can have the confidence of an extrovert, but you can fake it. Stand up straight, hold your head up high, and speak with authority. Be yourself — if you’ve got a bit of a stutter like I do, don’t worry about it. Just be kind, smile, and pretend as if it’s no big deal. Simply walk up to someone and ask if you can join them. If you need a line, try this: “I’m here by myself and your group looked like they were having the most fun. May I join you?” Be sure to tell them to continue their discussion and you will catch up.

It’s okay to use a little liquid courage, but remember this is a professional event. If you drink, don’t get drunk.

Practice your pitch

If someone asks you what you do or what organization you are with, you should be able to answer with ease and a commanding authority. Keep the answer short, between one and two minutes. Quickly outline who you work for and what your responsibilities include. Make it sound impressive and be sure to mention any special skills you may possess. Have a story in mind if someone asks you for an example of your work. You never know who you will meet, and if you happen to be speaking with a potential employer, it’s important to note how invaluable your skills are to your current or past company.

Know your business card etiquette

DO make sure to bring business cards. DO NOT throw them at everyone you meet. Networking opportunities shouldn’t be about gathering as many contacts as you can. Instead, make it about building relationships. Give out your cards only if you feel as if you truly connected with a person and you see a future relationship brewing. Feeling uneasy about whipping out those cards? Try saying this: “I would love to get in contact with you, do you have a card?” By asking them for the card first, it gives you the opportunity to hand one back in return. I find this a lot easier than asking if they want my contact information.

Connect with organizers

Networking events typically follow a theme and are industry specific. Making friends with the organizers of the event will give you a heads up as to when future meetings may take place. They may also be able to introduce you to key players or tell you who to look out for. This type of information can be invaluable.

Follow-up with connections

During the networking event, don’t try to sell anything. Your one job is to be presentable, approachable, and impressive. A few days later, take a look at the business cards you collected or look up the names of the people you met on social media. Send them an email reminding them of who you are and of how enjoyable their conversation was.

Keep the message short and offer to buy them coffee so you can continue the conversation. If you do want to sell something (a product, or yourself for a job), be up front about it.  Say you have a proposition for them, and would love to buy them lunch to discuss it. No one can refuse free food!

Just do it!

Go to networking events and put yourself out there. Sure, it will be incredibly nerve-wracking at first, but, and it may seem cliché, practice makes perfect.

 

Did we miss anything? Tell us your networking tips in the comments below!

Author

Katherine DeClerq is the editor of Women's Post. Her previous writing experience includes the Toronto Star, Maclean's Magazine, CTVNews, and BlogTO. She can often be found at a coffee shop with her MacBook computer. Despite what CP says, she is a fan of the Oxford comma.

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