Whether you’re a dancer or a developer, relationships are the best way to introduce yourself to new opportunities, potential mentors and to help you build a reputation in your field. However, networking is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of many, even though really it’s just a way of building those new relationships. If the idea of walking into a room cold and introducing yourself gives you the chills then here are a few tips to make things a little bit easier.
Aim to Help Someone Else
Most people are not natural networkers and there’s nothing unusual about finding the idea a little uncomfortable. But networking isn’t the sole reserve of loquacious extroverts. Introverts are just as likely to create interesting and beneficial networks. It takes all sorts as they say.
If it helps you take the pressure off, approach creating networks as a way to facilitate others. If you aim to make other people’s lives easier, you’ll make it easier for yourself to reveal your charm, and make lots of contacts in the process.
If you know people who you think would work well together, make an introduction. They may not take it up from there, but you’ve facilitated a potential connection and people will recognise that you’re someone who’s good to know for their own networks.
Don’t think about it in a mercenary way. That makes the whole thing feel a little… icky. I have never gone to an event with the goal of making new contacts. I’ve always approached it as a way of meeting someone interesting, and maybe finding a new friend to work with in future. If you don’t worry too much about what they can do for you, you can make a genuine connection that could be mutually beneficial later on.
Quality, Not Quantity
You don’t need to know the most people, just the most relevant people. So please don’t worry that you’re not making it around to everyone in the room. Talk to people that you know will benefit you, or be interested in what you’re developing. The majority of folks feel a little awkward at networking events so cracking a few bad jokes with the person you’re talking to never fails to put both of you at ease. Just make sure they’re bad-haha, not bad taste.
Network Through Work
The best way to meet people is to work alongside them. For that reason, it’s great to get involved with a wide range of projects that will introduce you to people who have the same sensibilities as you. Being open and enthusiastic about projects, whether that’s freelance work, volunteering or getting involved in a cultural event, will furnish you with connections that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
Focus on the Conversation…
There is nothing more deflating than talking to someone who is looking over your shoulder to see if they should be talking to someone more important. Focus on the person in front of you while you’re talking to them. You don’t have to listen to their whole life story, but make them feel their time is valued and later you can move on at a natural point.
…But Have An Exit Strategy
It happens to us all. You can get stuck talking to someone who’s droning on and on about … well, you’ve forgotten. There’s absolutely no need to waste your time with a person who just wants to bend your ear. It’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself to head to the bathroom, or go get a drink, or to strike up a conversation with a passing acquaintance. Don’t be rude about it, but maybe don’t say, “I’ll be right back” when you scarper.
But what do you do with your hands?! Hold a wine glass, a clipboard, a pen – something. It will stop you fidgeting and betraying your nerves if you’re talking to someone you really want to impress. After a few minutes of chatting you’ll forget that you were ever nervous and you’ll be swept forward by the flow of the conversation.
Just Have a Chat
Don’t get too hung up on hitting the salient points. Have a normal conversation, smile, be engaged and ask questions. Once the person knows your face, you can approach them again on business matters some other time. Have business cards handy to give when you’re parting ways, and afterwards you can drop them a quick email to thank them for the chat, and establish proper contact.
So go bravely into the night, folks. There’s really nothing to worry about and you’ll get better and better at it the more practice you get.