If it ever seems like networking events are awkward, it’s not just you. We all struggle sometimes. But how can you make it easier – and why is it definitely worth the effort?
What happens at a networking event? People grow their businesses, make life-changing connections and meet vital influencers. 70% of jobs are found through networking. But sometimes, this just isn’t motivation enough. For those of us who don’t love spending our free time meeting – and impressing – crowds of new people, the whole thing can feel a bit stressful.
When bagels alone aren’t a sufficient icebreaker (have they ever been?) you’ll need a concrete strategy for getting more out of networking events – but don’t worry, we’ve got your back. After all, we can’t all be professional networkers, but whether you’re looking to hire or be hired, you can’t win the game if you don’t want to play it. So, what are the 6 toughest things about networking – and how can you overcome them?
1. ‘I don’t like small talk’
Don’t we all? Make it more natural and find an ally – it’s easier for a third person to join a conversation between others than to start up from cold, so buddy up and let the chatter flow. If you find yourself stuck, drop your guard and get meta – say precisely what you’re thinking. As in, “Man, I am not great at small talk. Isn’t networking kind of awkward?”
Odds are good that they’re thinking the exact same thing, and that connection can spark an honest dialogue.
2. ‘I’m bad at remembering names’
Prepare! Memorize or make notes about the speakers. Find out who’s attending – you could ask the organizer, or check an event page – then open LinkedIn and get stalking. This will also help make sure you spend as much time as possible with the people you want to keep in touch with.
At the event, play a name-recalling game like the meet and repeat: As soon as you meet someone, use their name in the next thing you say.
You can even challenge others to join in. You can quickly unite a small team of strangers around overcoming one of the toughest parts of networking and in doing so, you’ll learn a lot more about them than just their names.
3. ‘I always get shy in big gatherings’
Getting over the first hurdle of saying anything is the typically the hardest part, so put together a little toolkit (a metaphorical toolkit, that is) of conversation starters to whip out when called upon.
We think you can do better than low-hanging fruit like “What do you do?” – ask something deeper to really get to know someone. This is how you make contacts who call back.
Here are a few lines that do the trick:
What are you hoping to get out of this event?
This gets right to the point and allows you both to share an honest reflection.
What’s your story?
This one is fun as it’s so open-ended. Your conversation partner can answer professionally or personally, seriously or frivolously. And you’ll learn a lot from each other about how you interpret the question.
What would you say that you’re known for?
This one is fun because people love sharing what they’re good at and usually love an opportunity to do so – it also lets people move the conversation onto familiar ground.
Hey, do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice.
(We’re just kidding with that one. Unless you think you can rock it – in which case, be our guests.)
4. ‘I find it hard to approach someone new’
Work your wardrobe! If you’re wearing something unique that stands out – like a brightly colored tie, choker, or that piece of statement jewelry you never find a time to wear – gives people an easy intro to start talking to you, and makes you memorable.
Pro Tip: Take screenshots of a conversation starter and it and make it the home screen on your phone. Whenever you check the time, you’ll be reminded what you should be doing instead, and you’ll actually take steps towards it.
Premium business cards that are unusual or innovative also spark further chat (hint: we design business cards for security professionals) one for you!). It’s one way to be sure you’re the one face that they don’t forget.
5. ‘It’s a waste of my time – nothing ever comes of it’
It’s a cliche, but you’re never going to get more out of an event like this than you put in. If you work it like a wallflower and let others start the conversations, you’ll be stuck discussing whatever’s on their agenda.
So get off the fence and drive that conversation train yourself: are you seeking employment? Employees? Co-founders? Write your intention down – in fact, screenshot it and make it the home screen on your phone. Whenever you check the time, you’ll be reminded what you should be doing instead, and you’ll actually take steps towards it.
And networking doesn’t end with the event – sincere follow-up closes the deal and builds stronger connections. After the event, write down whatever you remember about your new contacts, and send them an email referencing your conversation. Or, if you want to really knock it out of the park, design personalized postcards to send and write your note by hand.
6. ‘I never meet the people I’m hoping to meet’
Did you research the guest list? Arm yourself with a clear intent for what you want to achieve? If so, are you at the appropriate event? Not all networking events are created equal, and often, the lower the barrier to entry the less obvious value you’ll find. Try seeking out events whose planners and speakers have credentials specific to your purpose, and whose organizers are confident enough in their offering to have a cover charge. By being more selective, you’ll find more of the right contacts.
Ignite Security Marketing is an inbound marketing agency that specializes in marketing and sales force automation for the security industry. Since 2008, we have been the marketing partner of choice for SDM 100 corporations and small to medium security companies around the nation. Contact us today to discuss your inbound marketing requirements.