We have all been there: you go to an interesting event on the cutting edge topic of your line of work. At the counter, a warm welcome and name tag greet you. The lectures leave an inspiring impression, making you eager to integrate the acquired knowledge in your daily business. At that point, you see the next topic on the agenda: Networking Drinks. Some see this as an opportunity. Most of us see it as forced interactions between people boasting about their business achievements, one-upping each other and exchange business cards or LinkedIn-info to never contact one another again. This latter mindset prevents you from making a genuine connection with interesting and like-minded people that share your vision, which is the whole idea of the networking drinks in the first place.
One of the key drivers to success in both your professional and personal life is having a strong network of people who you can trust and depend on. Networking is important, but how to go about it can be a challenge. To help you make an actual connection at your next event (instead of just adding another card to the pile in the corner of your bag that needs some serious cleaning), here are several tips:
1. Quality over quantity
Don’t work the room, look for an honest connection. Engage with the first person you see who you think is interesting. If you do not feel a click after your initial interaction with someone, be polite about your departure and move on. This might seem contradictory in the spirit of networking, but the actual goal is being selective in who you connect with whilst being discretionary about the way you move from person to person. If networking itself seems daunting, remember this: just one quality conversation is what it takes to make it a successful networking event. If that did not happen, nothing to worry about, on to the next event.
2. Be a good listener
Being a good listener means actively listening without acting on your urge to have a word in every time you feel you have something to say, rather than being silent the entire interaction and just nodding along. You can add to the interaction by interjecting with open ended follow-up questions, which help engage you in the conversation. Maintaining good eye-contact and portraying genuine enthusiasm contribute to the connection. This way of interacting helps to build rapport and trust with your conversation partner, two of the most important things in social interactions and building relationships. One last thing to keep in mind is: people will not remember everything you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
3. Be generous and give, don’t just take
Think rather of ways on how you can give value to others like relevant knowledge or sharing your contacts, so that they get interested in helping you. A great example on how to go about this can be found in a video by the guys of Charisma On Command. There is little that people find more annoying about networking events than people who are just there for themselves and are not in any way looking to help others or bring value to the table. These people do have their own value: they are a good group to practice your discreet departures on.
4. Follow up on a nice interaction
When you enjoyed the interaction with someone, set up a reason for a follow-up meeting at the end of it. This ensures that both of you know there is going to be a time to reconnect. This does not mean you have to get back to them 2 hours after the event has ended, but 2 weeks might be pushing it as well. Send them an invitation within a few days for coffee to discuss ideas and ways you could strengthen each other’s businesses. You are not only taking, but giving as well after all.
Doing the above allows you to build honest, sincere long-term relationships that bring value to both parties. Even though you might not stay in touch with everyone for years on end, maintaining your relations helps generate leads in times you least expect them to. Integrity, sincerity and keeping your promises are important in this respect, as they show you are a trustworthy person that people will come back to when they have something of value for you. Value is not only knowledge or connections you can share, but being a sound board for ideas and helping your personal development as well.
So take your chance with striking up a first conversation next time at a networking event. Who knows what good things will come of it.
Kevin van der Meijden (30) has a broad orientation and set of interests, which is reflected in both his personal and professional life. Following his BA Japanstudies, MA Political & Social History and MSc Public Administration in Leiden, he started his working life as patent information officer at the University of Leiden, followed by subsidy consultancy, and currently project management and organization consultancy at Deloitte. His main interests lie in making/writing/producing/listening to music, sports in the form of football/yoga/fitness, and personal development through meditating/reading/writing/discussing/visiting cultural events and debates. Upon meeting Extraordinary Life's founder Tom Marshall, Kevin wanted to contribute to the cause and try his hands on a new challenge: writing a blog for EL, in which being your authentic self in your work environment is the central theme. He's always up for a good cup of coffee and a discussion, for which you can contact him through LinkedIn.