Have you ever walked into a networking event with high expectations, only to find yourself leaving an hour or two later with no new contacts or leads? Trust me when I say you’re not alone. During my first few attempts, I’d begin my night assuming I’d meet someone capable of changing my career path and making all my dreams come true—only to end it a few hours later, with nothing but a few cheese cubes to my name.
However, over time I learned that it’s not just about showing up. It’s about going in with the right mindset and goals. By using five simple strategies, I can almost promise that you’ll be rolling deep in promising professional contacts in no time.
Here’s something that you’ve definitely said at some point (probably after someone suggests you attend more professional parties): “I go to networking events, but I feel like I never make a connection with anyone.”
There’s an easy fix here: Be smart (and exclusive) about where you go. The more specific and niche the networking events you attend, the better—especially because it can be intimidating to go to a huge, general “professional meetup.” Simply heading to a smaller, industry-specific event will give you more in common with fellow networkers from the get-go. Plus, you’ll know that every business card you hand out is going to someone who’s more likely to benefit from knowing you.
Need some help finding these events? Talk to co-workers, post it as a question on your LinkedIn status, or scan industry sites.
2. Be Inclusive
The old saying goes “fake it ’til you make it,” but I prefer the phrase, “don’t be fake ’til you make it.” We’ve all met those people: the types who are obviously trying to talk to the most important people in the room—and no one else. Not only are their actions incredibly transparent, but that exclusivity is also a huge turn-off for everyone, including the powerful people they’re trying to impress.
Regardless of who you’re talking to, try as hard as possible to be genuinely interested in what he or she’s saying to you. Here’s another way to think of it: You never know who’s listening to your conversation. I don’t mean that in a creepy sense. More like, you should always pretend your career idol’s eavesdropping on you—would he or she be impressed with what you’re saying?
3. Ask the Questions
Here’s the golden rule of networking: People want to talk about themselves, so let them. Be the one to ask the questions about where someone’s working, what he or she thinks about the industry, really, anything. If you’re nervous or shy, it’s easy to start word vomiting whatever you can think of to keep the conversation going. So instead of risking that, flip it on the other person (you can find some great ways to carry a conversation here).
Obviously, you don’t want to go full-on interrogation mode. But by focusing the vast majority of your time asking questions, you’re building trust and interest. And, if you’re talking to the right person, you’re hopefully also learning a thing or two.
4. Keep Friendship in Mind
Instead of networking from a place of “Who can best propel my career forward?” go into every meeting wanting to start friendships. By changing your mindset, it immediately takes the pressure off and allows your conversations to be much more authentic—and memorable.
For example, I met one of my (now) favorite contacts by candidly discussing Survivor (which, for the record, was not the event’s theme). I made a joke about wanting to get home in time to watch the latest episode, and we immediately launched into a lengthy discussion about our favorite castaways and seasons. Before leaving, we exchanged contact info and, sure enough, when I reached out the next morning, he responded with a Survivor joke.
5. Don’t Just Get Business Cards
Business cards are becoming increasingly pointless. It’s not only easy to lose them, but it’s also hard to keep track of who belonged to which card by the end of the night. As Muse writer Anneke Jong suggests, just hand over your phone and have people input their contact information. Then, jot down a couple of notes in your phone so you can keep everyone straight.
Also, if it makes sense for your industry, ask for someone’s Twitter handle instead—then follow him or her on the spot. At the end of the night, send out a “nice to meet you” tweet—connection made.
Armed with these tips, you’ll be making it rain new LinkedIn connections, guaranteed.