As an introvert who wasn’t always comfortable in new social environments, the word ‘networking’ was one that I tended to shy away from. It seemed too overwhelming.
However, since I recently entered the real world, I’ve become attuned to how increasingly imperative it is to meet new people and make connections with like-minded individuals. I moved to a brand new city and forced myself to get out there and talk to new people.
And you know what? It’s not so bad!
It’s taken some time, but now I feel much more comfortable introducing myself to strangers. The following protocol is sure to help you too make awesome connections and expand your network as a result:
1. Actively seek networking opportunities.
Aim to schedule at least two networking events, seminars, and/or workshops per month. Don't just wait for an opportunity to land in your inbox, but instead, make the effort to look for them both through your university and online. Eventbrite is one fantastic resource.
The more that you attend, the more natural you will become at building relationships, expanding your network, and getting your name out there. People prefer to work with someone they know and like. In-person connections are key!
2. Practice confident body language.
Our body language is largely responsible for how confident we feel, how others perceive us, and thus, how likeable we are.
Even if you don’t initially feel confident walking into a room full of people, you don’t want your body language to give that away. If your shoulders are constantly turned inward and your head is always tilted down -- or if you're frequently looking at your phone -- people aren't likely to want to get know you.
Instead, practice great posture to appear confident and approachable. Stand firmly with your chin up and shoulders back. Take up space. Use gestures while you speak to keep your hands visible and more engaging, and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
3. Show curiosity and genuine interest.
Curiosity makes us irresistible!
When you meet someone, learn their story. Everyone has something to teach. Find out their passion and how they got into their industry and position.
People are more keen to those who pay attention. Seasoned professionals will especially be impressed with your ability to ask quality questions and listen closely to their answers as your conversation flows. Attend these events with an open mind -- not just for the sole purpose of landing an internship or job right away, but to learn as much as you can.
I always notice when it seems like someone isn’t in tune to the conversation, so I try to make sure I am an excellent listener. I ask questions that help me internalize what makes them tick.
4. Emphasize what value you want to bring forth.
During your elevator speech, speak on more than just the surface level of what you want to become, but instead highlight how you plan on adding value.
Are you seeking a job in advertising? “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Kristen, and I want to help companies strengthen their marketing strategies, promote their image, and grow their customer base,” could be an appropriate introduction.
“My goal is to become a broadcast journalist who sheds light on important global topics that you’re not always exposed to in the media,” or “I design aesthetically pleasing, optimized, and responsive websites” are more examples for various industries.
Saying that you work/want to work in marketing, public relations, journalism, graphic design, etc. is ambiguous. By being specific, you clear up any confusion before it arises. Also, there’s a chance your skills may automatically tap into someone’s needs.
5. Systemize your new contacts.
How many of us really keep a hundred different business cards handy? They collect over time and start to take up space.That is, assuming you don’t lose them altogether.
Within a day or two following an event in which you’ve made new associates, systemize their information so that it’s easily accessible. You may not want to add everyone to your address book.
There are some very useful phone apps that are great for storing your new contacts. I use an app called “ScanBizCards.” True to its name, it uses your camera to scan business cards and capture their information. From there, you can add notes (“met so-and-so at the Building Value event on campus”) and group contacts into categories ( such as ‘Photographers’ or ‘PR Professionals’).
6. Become a connector.
You will see the biggest rewards when you focus on helping people and providing value. One way to do so is by becoming a power connector early on, even before you’ve developed a career. Think about who you know that can benefit from someone you met, and virtually introduce them to one another.
At a recent mixer, I met a very well dressed men's custom tailor who I easily built a rapport with. I don't see myself needing a men's suit anytime soon, however, my cousin is a stylist who specializes in high end male clientele and is always looking for new suit designers. I introduced the two via email, after which they were able to save each other's contact information and discuss working together. Your associates will appreciate the small favor that could potentially open opportunities and help them achieve their goals.
Don’t feel as though you need to meet everyone in the room and follow up with every single one of your new contacts after leaving an event. Quality over quantity applies here, too. Attend relevant events, focus on meaningful conversations, and keep in touch with the people whose conversations stand out to you.
You will most definitely become confident about networking more and start to see the many benefits that follow.
This is a guest post by Kristen Wiggins, the founder and editor of Peaches, Beaches, and Urbanistas.