You contemplate attending an event. You say to yourself, “I don’t need to go, I already know plenty of people and besides, who else am I going to meet that I don’t already know?” You know there will be lots of people there and a part of you knows that you should be there but you figure you have other things to work on so you pass up the event. But there is another side of you that is not a fan of these events because you know that to get anything out of it requires you go up to people and talk. The fear of putting yourself in front of others makes you feel vulnerable and helpless, almost like you are begging them for help. The truth of the matter though is that these events are what help spread your career out in ways you never imagined. Don’t forget, they need your help just as much as you need theirs.
The Hell of Networking
Networking can be like hell when it is part of your job to be at events where passing out cards can seem like a waste of time. How many times have you gotten home after an event only to forget who that person was you were talking to? Many industries are popping up to help alleviate that problem, like Vistaprint, the savor of creating any kind of card to hand out to people. Unless you put your face on your card, no one will remember what you look like and what you do.
This is part of why people hate attending networking events. They find the table with the free drinks and hover there until someone else is lingering there and you make the usual insulting remark, “Boy, I hate coming to these networking events.” Whereby the other person replies, “yea, me too. The last time I was here I went home with like twenty cards, all of which went straight to the trash.” This ends with both laughing about how silly the whole thing is but ironically enough each giving the other their card because they enjoyed their time together making fun of everyone else.
Images of these from movies and past networking experiences conjures up bad feelings about networking parties and events. It is easy to see why so many people stay home at night instead of getting out and meeting people. The former doesn’t require any effort because it allows you to stick to your routine, and last time I checked nobody likes it when you mess with the status quo. The truth of the matter is that if you want to advanced your career, make a name for yourself, you need to be out networking.
The Many Faces of Networking
Networking comes in many different forms. Most people are introduced to these events in disguised called “parties” while growing up in school. At first the dance parties in middle school just consisted of boys on one side and girls on the other until some fateful soul makes the attempt to cross the line and asked one to dance. In high school things tend to change with parties being more open and free going at friends’ houses whereby your friends start to introduce you to more people you see in passing but don’t really know.
This is how your social circles start to expand and why the popular kids stay popular because they are always meeting new people and making new friends. The kids who don’t have many friends fear the aspect of getting rejected when they meet new people hence why they stay home more. This is an issue that continues for many who did not have a large social upbringing of always meeting new people. People with a poor social upbringing go on to attend less social events, less networking parties, and host less home events themselves.
College campuses provide many opportunities for people to explore their interests. This is why they say in student orientation, go out and join student organizations. You will meet new people who share the same interests, attend more social events that carry the same theme, and improve your social and networking skills all at the same time. Now think about all the people who go to college just for the courses and then ignore all the social events (or because they have to work) only to find that it is harder to find a job if and when they graduate. It has been shown over and over again that 80% of jobs are found through people you know and word-of-mouth referral. If this is where majority of jobs are found then why do people keep ignoring networking events? Partly because they have terrible networking skills.
College is filled with many opportunities to improve your social skills but the challenge to that is that you have to want to improve yourself first. You have to be aware of your lack of skills to know that you need help improving them. Many people grow up thinking that they don’t need these “soft skills” because they are not as important as having engineering skills or programming skills so they spend more time working on those to make themselves look good for who ever is hiring. Pro-Tip: Companies are more likely to hire someone from one of their current employee referrals than a new hire. Why? The company knows that the current employee has the skills and education needed to work at the company which translate to the type of people they socialize with. If they are friends with that person then they must same similar interests and skills. Pro Tip: Skills matter more than the name of the school you attended.
After college, if you still can not find jobs, applying online is a waste of time because you will only find the short end jobs that always need filling, why? Because most people don’t want to work in those jobs that is why those same job ads are always there. The turnover rate is high. The next networking landscape is specialized networking events. If you are an actor find networking events for your industry, if you are a programmer find networking events just for that, if you want to create businesses then network at incubators and pitch competitions. The challenge with this now is that once you find your area to connect with, how do you know what to do once you get there?
How to Work a Room
1. Approach with a Goal in Mind
Many people attend programs, workshops, and special events with no specific goal in mind. It is common to hear from people that they are only attending to find out what people are talking about and to get a feel for the “market trends” as they like to put it. This is just a simple way of saying, “I don’t know what I am looking for so I am just going with the flow.”
If you are attending a networking group or workshop on industrial design have in mind a few types of people you would like to meet and talk with. Once you have that figured out put a few more limitations on that, like, people who are currently employed with a design firm or industrial (engineering) firm. This will ensure that you are talking with people who understand what is happening in the market and that you learn more about their company and what positions they are hiring for. This also puts you in touch with currently employed contacts instead of people looking for work just like you. It is not uncommon to attend events like this and run into HR managers looking to hire talent right there on the spot. You just have to have the people skills to find them and know how to talk with them.
I attended a design workshop once where, when asked by the speaker how many were looking for work and how many were HR managers who had the ability to hire on the spot, half the room raised their hands looking for work and the other half were HR managers. The speaker then took it upon himself to tell the engineers literally what to say, “ok guys do you see the hands still up in the air? Here is what you do, go up to the person and say, “Hello, my name is so-and-so. I work as a such and such developer or engineer, please tell me more about the positions your company is hiring for.” It is not a secret that engineers have the worst people skills but this goes to show that many people still do not know how to work a room.
2. Work on your opening line
How many times have you run into people and you have to start the conversation? This can get trying for people who have to carry the whole conversation which creates a negative impression about you if you don’t have things to ask or talk about. People like talking with people who have something to share and say. When you meet a new person you should have an opening line that tells a little bit about yourself and leaves room open for the person to ask questions.
Examples: Hi, my name is Matthew, I teach middle school math for a private school and run an educational theater program on the weekends for low-income students. What do you do?
Hi, I’m Johnson, I’m a python coder for small businesses. How about yourself?
Hi, I’m Eric, so what brought you to tonight’s event?
Hi, I’m Frank, so how do you know the host of the party?
There are just a few opening lines to help you get a feel for how you should think about approaching others. You want to have something interesting to share or talk about in the beginning to help get the conversation going. If you can use humor to start things off then even better. Here are 8 more ideas on how to get a good first impression.
3. Stick to the 5 Minute Rule
It is great once you have a conversation going with people in a room. Sometimes the momentum is so great that you don’t want it to end so you figure you should play it safe and just enjoy your time. The truth of the matter is that you came to network and meet new people and you can not do that if you spend all your time talking to one person.
One of the rules that is popular in networking is the 5 minute rule. This means that in five minutes you should be able to introduce yourself, find out a little bit about the other person, share some ideas and connections, exchange business cards and set up a meeting to talk later. That is where the real connections happen later on. The event is to talk to as many people as you can so you can learn about who all is in the room and how you can help them and how they can help you. You spread out those connections throughout the week to meet up for lunch and talk further.
The 5 minute rule is a bit intimidating for new people because it requires a lot of advanced social skills to keep the conversation causal but not forced, friendly but not pushy, and easy going the whole way through. Sometimes the other person might go off on a tangent to tell a story so as to not come off as rude or pushy it requires some skill to bring the conversation back on track and move on.
This rule has exceptions of course, especially if there are not that many people at the event so there is no need to feel rushed but many times when these events only last an hour it can be hard to figure who to spend time with. If after you have talked with everyone then feel free to go back and finish a conversation with someone you enjoyed meeting.
4. Create special reminders on the back of business cards
It can be difficult to remember all the people you talked with at an event, especially if you attend at least three a week. The challenge with business cards is figuring out what to do with all of them after you have them. They take up space if you don’t plan on calling all of them back. The other challenge, once you have them, is remembering exactly what the both of you talked about. A simple trick is to draw or write something on the back of the card to remind you of what you both talked about.
This is really helpful because it keeps your memory on track and helps you pick up where you left off with the person. The simple act of remembering what you both talked about also leaves a positive impression with the person because it shows you cared to remember. The little things really do make a lasting impression with people.
5. Use Humor only if you know how
Humor is a fun tool to use if you know how it works. There are many people who are naturally funny and then there are those that couldn’t tell a joke to save their life. Being funny is a skill but a hard skill to learn if you did not grow up in a home where laughter was a common sound. Understanding the structure and dynamic to a joke is hard to learn in the beginning but worth the effort in the end. Once you know how to tell jokes and you have a natural wit then use it throughout your conversation. People enjoy being around others who can make them laugh and since laughter is the best medicine make sure to administer it when needed.
Humor is a great way to help break the icy feel of a conversation or a tense moment. Humor does many things for people who know how to use it correctly so if you have trouble with being funny or want to be remembered more then here are a few books to read.
6. Always Follow Up
This part is hard for many people afterwards. They feel the connection might not have been there as they thought. When you put to much thinking into something it starts to look different in a new light. Don’t over analyze something because you have no idea what else that person might be working on.
There are many great things you can say about what you remembered from the conversation from last night. It is important in your follow up to mention about meeting up sometime and talking further either for a quick coffee in the morning or lunch. Be sure to mention that you will also share their contact information with people who might be interested in their services. This shows that you are aware of what it is that they do but also willing to take your time to help give them more exposure. You will be surprised how much that really means to people to hear that. They will also feel the same about your services as well and offer the same help in return.
The last part is how you start to gain more exposure for yourself and your line of work. You need the help from other people to get your name out there. If you think that having a killer website and business cards is all that you need then you still do not understand the power of networking. The points I have listed here are just a few that I use when networking so understand there are a lot more things to consider. When you work as a freelancer or entrepreneur your whole line of work relies on excellent people skills. You need to understand how people are and how they present themselves in those kinds of situations.
This is why it is important to start attending as many events as possible. It doesn’t always have to be a networking event to meet people. Meetup.com is a perfect place to meet people of similar interests and connect through there. Once you start to improve your people skills then you can improve your networking skills and start landing job after job. But the only way to do that is to practice, practice, practice, and get yourself in front of people all the time.
Here are a few books you will want to read and study to get the most out of networking. Just remember, networking comes in all forms and just when you think you don’t need to attend anymore that probably means you need to connect with a new group of people to help you see a new perspective in life. Sometimes to get out of a rut the best thing to do is get into something new and challenging.
Business Card Tips
How to Work a Room – Susan RoAne
Never Eat Alone – Keith Ferrazzi
The Fine Art of Small Talk – Debra Fine
The Art of Mingling – Jeanne Martinet
The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure – Catherine Blyth
25 Ways to Win with People: How to Make Others Feel Like a Million Bucks – John C. Maxwell
How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less – Nicholas Boothman
Networking like a Pro – Ivan Misner