5 Ways to Prepare for Your Next Networking Opportunity
As fall approaches, so does conference season. And just as we’ve done in the past, we want to offer you a few tips for building even better connections during this prime networking time.
Networking is an art as much as it is a science. For many of us it is a panic-inducing activity. For some, it is more of a mundane necessity. And then there are others who simply delight in it.
We believe, regardless of your networking expertise, there are always ways to become even better at it. So, here are 5 ways to prepare for your next networking opportunity and set yourself up for even more success.
1. Prepare the Tangibles.
The tangibles, like business cards or brochures, provide us with the information we need to follow-up and serve as the physical reminders of the conversations we’ve just had. They are pretty dang important. Yet, how many of us have heard someone ask, “Do you have a card?” only to realize there are none left in our wallet and we left our extra stash back at our desk?
Especially when you know you’re walking into a situation where networking is a possibility, keep a handful of those leave-behinds in your bag, your glove box, and your wallet so you are never without them.
2. Prepare the Content.
Small talk can feel really challenging at times. So, just as we might prepare for a challenging meeting or big presentation, why not prepare for small talk as well?
We recommend coming prepared to a networking conversation with a couple different topics and conversation starters to speak on and ask questions about. These should be topics you feel pretty well versed in and capable of carrying on a conversation about. To be fully prepared, a couple of the items be work or industry related and a couple of them be a little more lighthearted, like sports news or current events.
Not only will preparing your content help you have more natural, less awkward conversations, but it will also help you present yourself as a thought leader in your discipline, someone who is paying attention to what is going on in the industry.
3. Prepare for the Relationships.
Prepare in advance for the kinds of relationships you want to form and the kinds of people you want to meet.
Of the people you might meet, think about people you can help. What types of audiences do you serve? What kinds of skills and special offerings do you have that make someone else’s life a little bit better? As you build relationships, build them with people who could use your expertise.
Of the people you might meet, also think about people who can help you. Is there a certain skill-set you are lacking? Is there a job function you need to fill? Is there a certain thing you need to learn more about? As you build relationships, build them with people who have an expertise that you do not.
Building these kinds of relationships allows you to share and exchange ideas in mutually beneficial ways. And, who knows, as you build a relationship you might find that it blooms into something longer lasting.
4. Prepare your Calendar.
It’s no surprise, building a network requires time. But when our schedules fill up so quickly, and so easily, with all of life’s other demands, how are we supposed to find the time?
Our recommendation? Create the time for yourself by preparing your calendar in advance.
Carve off time on your calendar for things like larger networking lunches or meetings. If you are a member of a professional association, such as the Project Management Institute, the International Institute of Business Analysis, the National Association of Women Business Owners, make sure you have carved off the time to attend their regular meetings and functions so you can be a willing, able, and active member. This is also a great time to attend alumni events, too!
Block time on your calendar for the smaller social lunches, coffees, walking meetings, or after-hours beverages with people you want to build relationships with. At any given moment you may not know who these people are, but when these opportunities present themselves, you will be glad to have already reserved the time for them. If you have the first Friday of every month reserved for a social coffee, or every other Thursday blocked for happy hour drinks with colleagues, when you meet someone and you want to follow-up or build a relationship, you’ve already got the space reserved on your calendar to be able to do so.
In addition to reserving time on your calendar for face-to-face relationship building, block time on your calendar to manage and follow-up with your virtual network. Schedule yourself one hour each week to skim through LinkedIn, catch-up on email-newsletter reading, or browse through your company’s intranet. Celebrate those in your network with birthdays, anniversaries, or career changes. Connect with all the new contacts in your network via email or LinkedIn. Share articles or blogs you’ve found interesting. All these little activities, accomplished in one quick hour, can work wonders for growing your network.
5. Prepare for What’s Next.
When building an effective relationship in our network, ideally, we shouldn’t have to go back to square one in our conversations each time we see each-other.
To avoid this, after you’ve made a new connection, start by making a mental note of the conversation, followed-by a physical or electronic one, so that you can review it, follow-up before you meet them again, and then pick up where you left off.
Let’s say for example, in one of our professional associations you’ve met a new individual named Janet. You invite Janet out for coffee, where she mentions in your conversation, she and her husband are going on a trip to California for their wedding anniversary. When you and Janet meet next, wouldn’t it be wonderful to check in with Janet and see how her trip went, what wines she enjoyed, and where she stayed?
If you make a note of the things you learn, such as someone’s hobbies, their interests, their birthday, or other details of their life that are meaningful to them, you are able to begin the next conversation by asking about the things they mentioned. Taking a few little notes and using them in your conversations moving forward will set your relationship up for great success.
We’ve found these five tips to be super valuable in our networking experience, and we hope you do too, but we know there are more! What’s the best networking advice you’ve ever received?