When you hear “in-person networking,” what comes to mind? Making it rain business cards? Kissing butt in hopes of a favorable first impression? Elevator pitching 30 people in 30 minutes? Mental fatigue? Forgotten names? Tired jaws?
Many people think of networking as a necessary evil for success. That’s partially true. Nobody will know who you are or what you do if you don’t get out and meet people. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be an evil? What if I said networking could be a source of inspiration to start or finish the project that’s been on your to-do list for the past six months? Well, that’s what happened to me when I attended the 2013 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
I came home with renewed energy after meeting some of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. And when I look back, it didn’t feel like networking at all. I was just meeting and building with people. The goal wasn’t to get business cards out there; it was simply to learn and build. I listened to attendees talk about their plans, dreams and passions. I heard stories of their roads to today. And every conversation I walked away from left me with a new idea or person I wanted to see (and help) succeed. That’s how networking works.
“In-person networking” wasn’t always easy for me, but there are a few things I’ve learned that have allowed me to have a great experience at every event I attend. Here are three reminders to help you navigate a conference or crowded room without feeling (too) overwhelmed.
1. Quality over quantity
Rather than trying to talk to everyone, make it a goal to establish deeper connections with three to five people. I find this particularly useful at conferences or other multi-day events. The people you build with on Day One may be the people you hang out with for the majority of your time there, and that’s fine. Naturally, they will see people they know and introduce you (unless they’re rude, in which case you probably wouldn’t be hanging out with them in the first place). Now you have a warmer introduction to new and interesting people. What’s overwhelming about that?
2. Don’t Lead with Your Card
I call this brute force self-marketing. Without having a productive conversation, you give out a card, say a few words, then keep it moving. When this happens to me, I end up getting home with a card and minimal recollection of the person that gave it to me. Essentially, it becomes a wasted sliver of wood. You are more likely to build a long-term connection if you get permission before passing out the card. Think about when you sign up for an email list vs. being opted into one without permission. How do you feel when you get that first message? That’s how the other person may feel when they get your card with no context.
3. Ask Questions First
Every conversation is a learning opportunity. In line with the previous reminder, meeting new people is about learning who they are (and what they do), not blabbering about yourself and then asking, “And what about you?” Leave that last part to the other party. Additionally, when you show you’re interested in learning about someone, he or she naturally walks away with a more favorable impression because you’ve given them the platform to talk about what he or she deems important.
Have you ever walked away from a conversation thinking about how pleasant the other person was, only to realize you did most of the talking? Same thing.
These are just a few simple reminders to help you navigate in-person networking. A change in your outlook and goals goes a long way toward enhancing what some find to be a draining experience. Good luck, and say hello to your new friends for me.
Rich Jones is a Career Consultant, HR Generalist, and writer specializing in resumes, cover letters, and leveraging social networks to land your next big opportunity. He’s also a certified professional in Human Resources with for-profit and non-profit recruiting experience. Check Rich out on his career blog, I Am Rich Jones.