As a New Yorker, the summer used to give me anxiety for two reasons: hot-ass trains and professional mixers. I couldn’t avoid the heat either. In the early stages of my career going to events was nerve-racking. My brain would fill up with a million questions as soon as I hit the block an event was on. With each step towards the location, I’d count building numbers and pray my anxiety would subside. Then the questions would start flooding in. Will I know anyone there? What will I say? Am I dressed okay? Things didn’t get much better once I entered. I’d stay to myself or just talk to the people I already knew. Oh yeah, and my career was suffering.
Eventually, I had to accept that going out wasn’t enough. The point of networking is to introduce yourself to new people and make connections. I realized I had to take a different approach to benefit from the experience and make networking more enjoyable. I won’t call myself a pro, but I’ve definitely upped my game. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.
1Choose The Right Event
I used to attend every event with a celebrity or notable person on the invite… just so I could be in the room. It was a great feeling and helped me create some cool social media posts, but I didn’t get much accomplished. I realized that networking wasn’t about doing it for the ‘Gram. I started to target networking events that related to my profession. Sites like Eventbrite or Meetup.com allowed me to search for events using keywords. Now, when I’m moving in a room, it’s for a reason.
2 Set Goals For The Event
I learned to create an intention for each and every function I attended. As an entrepreneur, meeting the right people is a game changer. Typically, I like to make sure I leave with two or three new contacts who I feel will help me continue to grow my career. Also, I set a goal to approach at least five people I’ve never met.
3 Speak Up and Connect
I used to be nervous about breaking the ice, now I’m a serial introducer. I realized a lot of folks shared my anxiety, so conversation usually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, once someone initiated it. Plus, it let folks know I was confident. My go-to is a compliment and followed by a quick, ‘Hi, I’m…” I let the rest build from there.
4 Stay Ready
Keeping business cards or Vcards is a must. But there’s something else I realized I was missing: an elevator pitch. After I had a great intro conversation, it was important to be able to follow up with what I was working on, my skills and my goals in a succinct manner. There was no time for fumbling and bumbling.
5 Mastering the Follow-Up
After I get home from an event, I put the business cards I received someplace I can see first thing in the morning. I also write down the names of the new contacts in my phone. I learned to follow up the next day—lest be forgotten or dismissed. I also always end my message with, “Let’s stay connected.” That phrase can get you far.