I’m not talking about computer networking. I’m talking about networking with people at events (such as social events, seminars, and conferences) to increase your contacts and build meaningful relationships. You’ll never know if these people could turn out to be your future employer, your business partner, or even just your friend.
I’m not saying I’m an expert in networking. Far from it. However, these are the lessons I’ve learned from attending numerous networking events.
First and foremost, I make sure this is an event that I really want to attend. I get invited to a lot of networking events, since I belong to different clubs – Toastmasters clubs, Harvard Alumni clubs, etc. In addition, I get invited to a lot of IT related events such as security conferences, trade shows, and vendor seminars. I ask myself the following questions before I sign up:
1. Will it add value to me?
2. Will I make new / meaningful connections?
3. Is it worth my time and money?
Once I determined that I am going to the event, I prepare the night before the event. I polish my elevator speech, I make sure I have enough business card, and if I have access to the list of attendees, I plan on the people I’d like to meet. I also prepare questions I’d like to ask. Some of the questions I ask to break the ice are the following:
1. How do you know the host?
2. What do you do for fun?
3. Where are you from? What do you do?
4. Compliment anything – appearance, health, clothing (eg. Wow, that’s a nice…? Where did you get it?)
During the event, I make sure to talk to people and be the first one to say hello. I admit this takes a lot of effort for me since I am an introvert. But if I don’t initiate the conversation, nobody will. I ask a lot of questions and offer help within my capacity. Remember, networking is a two way street. It’s not only about what you can get, but what you can do to help the other person.
If the event has a speaker, I try to ask questions and participate at sessions.
I also make sure that I meet at least 3 new people I can connect with. I usually ask to connect on LinkedIn, since it is the best way to keep in touch.
Finally, I try to have fun and enjoy the event.