Networking seems to be one of those unpleasant facts of life, and it has become increasingly necessary for millennials who are trying to get ahead or stand out from their peers. Networking can be terrifying for those who are uncomfortable with the idea of selling themselves. It’s an inorganic situation that can feel awkward. But when used correctly, networking can be one of the most powerful tools for advancing your personal and professional goals, whether it be landing a new job or meeting someone you look up to. So how do you go about networking when you’re not a social butterfly?
Make a game plan
Plans are made for a reason. Even when you can’t stick with them, the process of planning out your steps provides clarity on how to score the winning point–or in this case, how to make a lasting impression. Before attending a networking event or social gathering, have a mental map of how you are going to spend your time and how many people you want to meet. It’s always easier to break a daunting task down into smaller steps. And once you arrive, be sure to jump right in and introduce yourself before the nerves kick in, there’s nothing more awkward and unproductive than standing silently on the sidelines.
Remember, it’s about the relationships
When you’re networking, both parties know that there’s something you’re after. But most people don’t like being treated as merely a means to an end. Instead, focus on relationship building and find some common ground with the other person. Same hometown, favorite sports teams, similar interests? Remember, it’s a give and take dynamic. Although you want something from them, also think about what you can offer them in return. Maybe mention that you have extra tickets to a game, or know of a new restaurant that opened up in town. Give them a reason to want to help you.
Listen, listen, listen
Listening is a skill that few people have truly mastered. If you’re not naturally a big talker, this is where your advantage may lie. During conversations, most people tend to nod along to whatever the other person is saying without really internalizing the content. And then they jump ahead to the next topic. Be sure to focus on what the person you’re talking to is saying and ask thoughtful questions. But live in the moment. It’s easy to let your mind race ahead and try to think of a response before they have even finished speaking. However, in doing so you may come off as distracted, so remind yourself to pay close attention.
Keep it short and sweet
The last thing you want to do is ramble, so always have your exit ready. Enter with a short introduction, including something about yourself that is memorable. Once you feel that you’ve spent enough time with one person, or the conversation is not going anywhere, thank them for their time and move on. Look for openings to grab a new drink or chat someone else up. After all, at networking events, you want to meet a healthy number of new people.
Always follow up
Perhaps the most important step after securing their contact information, be sure to follow up within a few days of your meeting. In your follow up email or call, help them recall who you are by replaying bits of your conversation and state the reason why you’re reaching out. Even if you don’t have an immediate reason to need their help, make a soft request and ask if you can call them if you have future questions or need advice. Borrowing a psychology term, it’s always easier to get someone to agree to a bigger request once you have your “foot in the door.” Also, keep your old networking connections warm by checking in every once in a while.