Last year, I went to a conference with 14,000 people I didn’t know.
It was intimidating to say the least, but I made myself talk to a stranger at every session, walk up to random groups at the evening meetups, and crash others’ tables at the meal breaks. By the end, I’d made around 15 new connections—but I was completely exhausted. I couldn’t muster up the energy to go to another networking event for a month.
Since then, I’ve completely revamped my networking strategy. Because, at the end of the day, there’s no reason meeting people has to be tiring, stressful, or awkward. In fact, with these six techniques up my sleeve, it’s become a blast (and a great career-booster, as well!).
1. Ask an Amazing Networker If You Can Tag Along
You know that person who can talk to anyone? He’s the co-worker who charms the shy guy sitting next to him at your work dinner, or the friend who’s seemingly connected to every professional in the tri-state area. Well, that person is your ticket to effective yet enjoyable networking.
All you have to do is say, “Hey! I’m trying to meet more people who are involved in [field, role, industry, or project]. Since you’re truly a networking master, I was wondering if you’d be willing to go with me to [event].”
Not only will being with someone you know make you more comfortable, but you won’t have to start any conversations—you can simply wait for your networking pro to start one with a stranger, then hop in.
If you don’t have any events in mind, instead say, “I was wondering if you could bring me along next time you go to a [conference, meetup, mixer].” Even if you don’t meet people in your specific area by tagging along, you’re bound to meet someone interesting, and the practice will help next time you’re on your own.
2. Make the Most of the Networking Events You Attend
OK, it’s not always practical (or possible) to bring a networking wingperson. That conference I went to solo? It was 3,000 miles from my town—so unsurprisingly, I didn’t know anyone in the area I could ask to come along.
That’s where an app called Wavework comes in. This app solves two of the biggest challenges of event networking: figuring out who to talk to, and making sure the connections you make actually go somewhere.
First, Wavework shows you who’s at the same event. Let’s say you’re at a large event: You'd open Wavework, check in, search the other people who have checked in to learn about their professional backgrounds or specialties, then arrange to meet up with anyone who looked interesting. Even better, the app keeps track of the contacts you make—so you can follow up later and keep the relationship alive. The Wavework app even lets you set notifications for specific users, which is handy when you want to get to know someone who goes to many of the same events or travels in the same circles—helping you easily build a relationship at the functions you already want to attend.
3. Interview Someone
If you dislike networking because you never know what to say, interviewing someone is a great workaround. Not only will you be listening for the majority of the conversation, but you can prepare your questions in advance. Best of all, you can connect with well-known, influential people you wouldn’t meet otherwise—because even the busiest professionals will feel flattered by your request.
Just be smart about how you reach out to these people—and respectful of their time. Think something along the lines of:
Congratulations on [recent achievement, company announcement, your impressive career]. Would you be open to being interviewed about [topic]? I’d love to share your insights on [my blog, my podcast, etc.]. It would only take 30 minutes at most, and we could chat over the phone or I could buy you a coffee! In any case, thank you for your time—and good luck with [project, organization, professional interest].
You might be thinking, “I don’t have a blog or podcast. How would I use these interviews?”
4. Host a Networking Meal
Last summer, my fellow Muse writer Lily Herman invited me to a networking brunch. All of the attendees were strangers—except we each knew Lily, of course.
Since networking meals are usually small and intimate, they’re the perfect settings for meeting new people. And if you want to both host and make connections, you can put a slight twist on Lily’s brunch: Rather than inviting, say, 10 people you know, invite five people and ask that they each bring one person you’ve never met.
5. Ask Your Connections for Help
More of a one-on-one sort of person? You can still leverage your existing contacts. Just let them know you’re looking to expand your network—they likely know people you should know, too, they just hadn’t thought about making the connection!
Social media is the perfect place to ask for intros. For instance, on Facebook you might post: “Hey, everyone! Do you know anyone awesome in [city]? If so, I’m looking for new people to grab coffee with!”
You’d probably want to be a bit more professional on LinkedIn. Try something along these lines: “Looking to expand your network? Me, too! Message me if you know anyone in [city], and I’ll return the favor by looking for someone in my network near you.”
Or, if you’re job searching and looking for very specific networking opportunities, write a detailed email to your network to see how they can help you out in the hunt!
6. Do What You Love
You’ve probably noticed it’s much easier to talk to someone when you share a passion. That’s why doing what you love is actually a fantastic networking strategy.
To find people who love the same activity or hobby as you, browse networking groups in your area, look into classes that interest you, or just go to a local event that speaks to your interests—even a basketball game can lead to great connections if you’re intentional about it! That’s why Wavework is geofenced—which is a cool way of saying that the app only connects you to those at the same event you are attending, like the U.S. Open or the NBA Draft—meaning you get to connect with people who are looking for the same things you are.
I’ve already bought my ticket to that massive conference I mentioned earlier (and this year, I heard they’re expecting 17,000 attendees). But I’m not nervous—on the contrary, I’m excited. These six strategies will help me meet others without burning out or feeling stressed.