Matt Tarpey, CareerBuilder writer
If you don’t like networking events, you are not alone. The prospect of quickly getting to know and impressing a room full of strangers can be pretty intimidating.
But the fact remains that networking is important to growing your career, so here are five easy ways to make your next networking event more bearable.
1. Consider your motivation
If you’ve ever had a bad experience at a networking event, you probably at some point asked yourself, “What am I even doing here?” As it happens, if you had figured out an answer to that question ahead of time, you probably would have found more success.
“Instead of dreading another mixer, go in with an objective,” says Kristi Daniels, executive coach at Thrive 9 to 5. “What would you most like to see happen or what do you want to experience? Perhaps you want to learn something about a new field, genuinely connect with a new contact or maybe you just want to have fun. If you have a negative attitude about attending the event, that energy will surround you like a grey cloud and repel potential connections. And you’ll be wasting your time.”
One thing many people – particularly introverts – worry about when facing an upcoming networking event is the pressure to talk a lot. Luckily, listening is just as important to being an effective networker.
“Be a good listener. Many people attend networking functions and attempt to push their product and services, dominating the conversation – which in turn puts many guest off,” says Greg Jenkins, partner at Bravo Productions. “When you listen, you also will know how to engage the person and perhaps find some commonality to start building a relationship.”
3. Partner up
Another way to avoid the awkwardness so many people dread about networking events is to bring a friend to help you out.
“Going to the event with a strategically selected partner – someone who is not a competitor but targets the same customers as you – is a great way to meet new faces,” says Victor Clarke, the owner of marketing firm Clarke, Inc. “Stop and introduce your partner to customers and acquaintances and they will do likewise. This approach is much more informal than cold calling strangers and will leave your address book groaning under the strain of new contacts.”
4. Know when to end the show
If you’re nervous about going to a big networking event, it’s natural to excitedly latch onto a conversation that starts going well. There’s that feeling of relief at actually finding someone you’re comfortable talking to, but be careful not to overdo it.
“If you corner someone in a conversation for too long (however comforting it may be to talk with one friendly person), they’ll start to think they’re missing out on other key contacts and stop listening,” says Amira T. Fahoum, director of marketing at Compass Senior Living. “Say thank you for the conversation and politely excuse yourself – or better yet, introduce them to someone else that ‘they should know.’ They’ll appreciate it and know they can talk to you next time without getting tied down.”
5. Follow up
If you’re not going to talk to anyone at the event, you may as well not go at all. The same applies to following up. You’re not going to a networking event to expand your network for a couple hours – the goal is to develop longer-term relationships. That means following up after the event is over.
“The most common mistake people make when attending networking events doesn’t happen until after they leave,” says David A. Johnson, co-founder of management consulting company Cane Bay Partners VI. “Follow up is key to establishing real, lasting relationships – if you just met someone, don’t expect them to remember you out of the blue. Make sure to add them on your social media channels and [online professional networking] profiles, and stay in touch via email or phone.”