Office Evolution Ann Arbor | December 14th, 2018
Attending a networking event for work feels a lot to me like nudging myself to make new friends in high school. Your first event can be uncomfortable, especially if you go alone, if you’re new to the work force or if you consider yourself to be naturally introverted.
In my line of work as the Business Center Manager of the first Office Evolution franchise in Michigan, gaining recognition for our brand is essential. Therefore, I attend several networking events every month, where my goal is to make a quick but lasting impression and gain powerful contacts while I’m at it. I know that when I set the intention to learn something new, it helps to have instruction and a strong foundation. I’ve been told that I’m a “natural” at networking, but I can assure you, it was a learned behavior. A behavior that you can learn too. You can implement the following tips one at a time, a few at a time or all at once. I encourage you to move at your own pace and ease yourself into the “waters.” I promise that if you follow through with these tips, you will leave you next networking event having forged stronger connections, attained valuable contacts and overall feeling more confident in yourself.
- Introduce yourself first. The first step is the hardest. If you arrive early and there are few people at the event, take the plunge and introduce yourself fist. You will automatically come off as more confident to them, and subliminally even to yourself.
- Ask questions. Nothing gets people talking like asking them open-ended questions, and nothing is easier to ask at a networking even then “Tell me about what you do.” In this case, it is fitting and will get the ball rolling for them to ask about yourself, which brings us to our next tip.
- Listen more than you speak. People love talking about themselves, so use this to your advantage. If you aren’t much of a talker (or even if you are), listen actively and ask them probing questions. One answer can lead to another question and before you know it, you find something in common.
- Look for ways to make connections. Networking events can bring together a hodgepodge of people from different backgrounds, ages and professions, but everyone has at least one thing in common. Find what it is you have in common with your conversation partner through asking questions and active listening—then reinforce it, i.e., “Oh you did? So, that’s something we have in common, I used to......”
- Have a goal in mind. Have a tangible goal you’d like to execute by the end of the night that will make you feel accomplished. For example, a beginner might make it a goal to “introduce myself to five new people tonight”, while someone with more experience might say “seek out three solid leads for my business.”
- Always carry business cards. This is a non-negotiable. If the other people at a networking event don’t carry business cards, at least you can hand them yours. The likelihood that they will remember you in the future increases because they have something tangible of yours to take away.
- Always ask for business cards and offer yours in exchange. This is my favorite tip of all! A simple “Did you have a business card? I’ll pass along one of mine as well,” can be modified as a transition to either start or end a conversation. “Well it was really nice to meet you, do you have a business card I can take before I leave?” Here is a tip within a tip: Always take at least three full seconds to scan a business card that was handed to you. It shows the person that you are attentive and will help you remember their name/business. You might also find details on the card that will spark conversation.
- Fake it ‘til you make it! Sometimes acting like you’re confident is all it takes to come across that way and, in effect, achieve your desired results. It doesn’t matter what you feel on the inside if you can project confidence and positivity on the outside. Start by picturing your ideal interaction and asking yourself what you can do to get there. Is the ideal-you smiling, standing tall and projecting their voice, effortlessly making a connection to the room? Or are they in a corner sipping a drink, looking at their phone and eating the snacks to avoid conversation? If it’s the former, take the first step: Smile, stand tall and refer to step 1.
- Bring a friend. If all else fails, or if you want to start out with some backup, bring a friend. Bringing along someone familiar will automatically put you at ease whether your friend is standing right next to you or on the other side of the room. Their effect is comforting, allowing you to be more yourself.
- Practice makes perfect. Actively look for networking events in your area and attend as many as you can. It is no secret that the more you do something, the better you get. There is also a snowball effect that starts to occur: the more events you attend, the more you’ll get invited to and the more faces you’ll start to recognize.
A good way initiate this step is to join a group that meets often. #LinkedInLocal is a great place to start! A grassroots movement that started with one hashtag and a coffee shop in New South Wales, Australia is now a global event. At Office Evolution Ann Arbor, we are proud to host Ann Arbor’s inaugural meeting on January 16, 2019 from 6pm-8pm at our business center on 455. E. Einsehower Pkwy, Suite 300.
The theme of the night is Company Roundtable where everyone will get a chance to introduce themselves in “tweet” format, then mingle with the guest of their choice. All are welcome, but space is limited to 50 spots for the first meeting! Check out the Eventbrite page to register and get more information.
Whether you attend a #LinkedInLocal event or your company’s annual Christmas party for the first time, I wish everyone much success and happy networking!