Networking is essential in the business world, yet many dread networking events. To help ease the pain and awkwardness, we asked several members of our team to share their best networking advice. Here are their tips for how to prepare for an event, conversation dos and don’ts, and advice for following up after a networking event.
BERFORE AN EVENT
How do you prepare for an event?
I study the attendee list and my notes about the individuals attending (if I’ve met them before), and also take a look at their current projects. I also check what the appropriate dress will be, ensure that I have enough business cards on hand, and grab a pen and notecards so I can jot down notes at the event. – Parker Gregg, Business Development Manager in Houston
What are some tips on networking during an event?
If you’re uncomfortable walking up to strangers, have a co-worker make your introduction. I also recommend collecting business cards and taking notes on topics discussed, especially time-sensitive items that require immediate correspondence. And if you get a question you don’t know the answer to, that’s only normal. We can’t all be experts on everything. Make sure you try and introduce them to a colleague or someone else in the industry who can provide the correct answer or look into it promptly after the event and get back to them. – Laura Drescher, Assistant Environmental Engineer in Kansas City
We all recognize that networking events can be uncomfortable and awkward. Many of us don’t feel comfortable striking up a conversation with a complete stranger, but the thing I always remind myself is that everyone else in the room is in the same boat as me. If you bite the bullet and be the first one to strike up a conversation, it’s a sign of self-confidence. The more confident and outgoing you are, the more relaxed others are going to be and the easier striking up conversation is going to be — for everyone. The most difficult part of any journey is getting started, so just dive in — take the first step in these situations and introduce yourself. It can go a long way in making the other person feel more comfortable. – Chris Woolery, College Recruiter in Kansas City
What is the worst networking line you’ve ever heard?
I’m a recruiter, so I’ve heard more than my share of networking lines over the course of my career. One of the most cringeworthy is “Do you remember me?” That question immediately puts pressure on person to whom the question has been posed and can pretty much be a guarantee that you’ll start the conversation on an awkward note. If you think you’ve met someone before but aren’t sure if they’ll remember you, just kick off the conversation by saying, “Hi [insert name]. I’m [insert name] with [insert company]. I think we might’ve met briefly at [insert networking event], but I’m not 100% sure. How have you been?” – Lauren Bertram, Recruitment Manager in Kansas City
What is your go-to conversation starter?
I like to put people at ease because I think it makes conversation, especially with a stranger, easier and more relaxed. So my strategy is to ask people about themselves — their job, background, family, hobbies, etc., and then let the conversation flow naturally from there. It makes everything easier! – Rachel Thompson, Environmental Engineer in Kansas City
My go-to conversation starter is “What do you do?” If you can get someone to talk about themselves they’ll be comfortable, open up more easily, and it’ll help the rest of the conversation go more smoothly. – Chris Woolery
What’s your biggest networking don’t?
My biggest piece of advice when it comes to networking is to not be self-centered. Don’t dominate the conversations you’re involved in, instead, make sure you focus and listen to others. It’s important to be interested in what they have to say. – Jason Dunn, Human Resources Generalist in Wallingford, Conn.
What do you do after an event?
When I attend an event, I try to follow up as quickly as possible with all the people I’ve met. I try to schedule meetings based on any conversations I had with prospective customers so that I can strike while the iron is hot (and they still remember me!). I also try to send notes to colleagues about anything pertinent I learned and write thank you notes where appropriate. – Parker Gregg
I think it’s super important to try and connect with people I’ve met at an event on LinkedIn. Also, if I grabbed their business card, I try to shoot them an email to tell them how much I enjoyed meeting them. Both of these things are easy to do and go a long way toward helping you build your network. – Lauren Bertram
How do you maintain professional relationships and start new ones?
When it comes to building relationships with existing clients, potential clients, competitors, vendors and regulators, getting involved in professional societies has been extremely beneficial for me. As a result of my involvement in these societies, each time I attend a conference or event, I already know at least a handful of people in the room who are more than willing to introduce me to others. – Laura Drescher
When I meet new people, one of my goals is to try to exchange emails with them after the fact. This is a small step and doesn’t take much time, but it’s a great opportunity to build relationships, discuss possible business opportunities and share information. – Rachel Thompson
There you have it. Networking advice from myriad folks within our organization. What about you? What are your favorite networking tips? We’d love to hear them.
Other resources on this topic:
The Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog: 3 Networking Tips to Help Build Relationships
The Burns & McDonnell Careers Blog: Networking Tips for Introverts from an Introverted Engineer
Inc: Networking Tips: Go from Awkward to Awesome
photo credit: Petter Palander Flickr cc