Tackling the Knowledge Gap
Helping My Fellow Millennials Become Networking Ninjas!
Through my own personal experience I’m becoming more aware of the fact that my fellow Millennials lack some pretty basic skills needed to succeed in the workforce, and members of older generations are pretty quick to point that out. Not many people seem to be publishing content to help close that gap, after all it’s far easier to complain about a problem than just suck it up and solve it, so I have taken it upon myself to help educate and inform my fellow Millennials. If I manage to shut a few people up in the process, so much the better.
Now, networking! You may be asking, what could this 20 year old who has never had a “big kid job” possibly know about networking? Well the truth is, I’ve been taught the basic skills involved in networking since I was about 10 years old. My parents, both coming from entrepreneurial and/or military backgrounds, believed that the ability to introduce yourself correctly and to speak with a wide variety of people were highly important and valuable skills. Through my current internship I am frequently presented with opportunities to help organize, observe, or even participate in networking events for a variety of fields.
The Importance of Competent Networking
If you plan on being successful in just about any career path, you will have to be able to effectively network. I believe that the sooner you begin to view the world as one giant networking event the better off you will be. The guy you bump into in the local coffee shop could potentially change the entire course of your career, and it would be a damn shame if you wasted the opportunity because you just stammered awkwardly.
For the purposes of this post, I’ll be assuming that you are going to an event with the stated intent of networking, that way I can walk you through the process I take pre, during, and post event.
- Do Some Research
Try and figure out who is going to be there. Now, you may not be able to find out the names of specific representatives but often you can find out the names of companies. You should do a little digging on companies that may be relevant or interesting to you or your career goals. This way you have talking points to fall back on if conversation starts to get stale, and the little boost in confidence that comes with not being completely in the dark.
2. Pick Out Your Outfit Ahead of Time
The last thing you should be worrying about on the morning of an event is your outfit. Luckily this decision is a lot easier to make than you might think. Most networking events will have a business casual dress code, but business casual means different things in different industries. In a more conservative industry like law or finance you may find the dress code is more formal compared to a creative industry like entertainment or graphic design. If in doubt, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. You should also keep the venue of the event in mind, and always wear comfortable shoes!
The Ladders does a great situation business casual breakdown here!
One way to make yourself stand out at an event is to wear a unique item of clothing. This could take the form of an ornate broach, an interesting tie, or a statement pair of shoes. A unique piece can serve as an excellent conversation starter and can help you to be more memorable to the people that you meet. I recently wore a bright yellow jacket at an event and it did it’s job wonderfully. Yellow is the first color people notice and will definitely stand out! If that’s too much for you consider blue.
When choosing a unique or statement piece that it should not be overly distracting or be unprofessional.
3. Have Plenty of Business Cards
It is highly unlikely that someone will remember your contact information without it being written down somewhere. Save them the time and hassle of looking for a pen and have business cards ready to hand out at the event. On the flip side, you should also have somewhere to put the business cards you will be handed!
During the Event
Now if this is your time, walking in to your first event can be a little scary. But remember you’ve done your research and you look awesome. Hold your head up and put your shoulders back because it’s game time!
- The Introduction
The way you introduce yourself to a new person is hugely important because according to Business Insider you only have 7 seconds to make your first impression. Your introduction should consist of a greeting, your name, your position and whoever your representing.
First off, you should look a person in the eye when you are introducing yourself. If this is too intimidating, focus on the space between their eyes until you gain some confidence. Second, for god’s sake smile! It will not do you any good to come off as reserved or unfriendly. Third, use a firm handshake. I know some ladies use a more limp-wristed handshake, and if that’s your style stick with it. Personally, I think a firm handshake is always the best policy.
Once you’ve gotten the initial introduction out of the way I like to find something to connect the two of us as soon as possible. This can be a mutual acquaintance, a hobby, or some of those facts your researched earlier. Forming a connection will likely make you stand out in their mind, plus it will make you look more experienced and professional.
3. Let Them Do the Talking
Luckily people love to talk about themselves so this one isn’t too difficult. Allowing them to do most of the talking with occasionally questions and responses from you will allow you to learn a lot about them, make a connection, and it will take a lot of the pressure of conversation off of your shoulders. This will be great for the novice networker who isn’t quite as confident in their abilities yet.
4. Stroke the Ego and Tell a Joke
This little pearl of wisdom has been passed down from both my mother and grandmother and is pretty genius. When meeting anyone new two great steps to take are to find a way to subtly stroke their ego and get a joke in the conversation somewhere. This way they will have a good feeling when they think of you and they will remember laughing with you.
5. Exiting Gracefully
I find this step to be the hardest because I’m naturally a little awkward and I don’t really do anything gracefully. Eventually your conversation will begin to taper off and you will need to move along to the next person. There are several ways to end a conversation politely, but my favorite by far is to introduce a new person and then leave quietly. You will be credited for making the introduction and you can move along without feeling guilty for leaving that person alone. If you cannot make an introduction, some polite excuse or pretending you’ve spotted a friend also works in a pinch.
6. Meet as Many People as Possible
While you should try to make quality connections with everyone you meet, you also need to make sure you are talking to a variety of people. This will help to quickly increase your networking confidence as well as increase your chances of meeting someone interesting and valuable. Calling a person valuable may seem crass, but ultimately your goal is to make valuable connections at these events anyway. Talking to more people increases your chances of doing that.
7. Collect Cards and Personal Information
Bring along something to collect business cards or contact information. Ladies, business cards can easily be slipped into a handbag or tote. Gentlemen, you have the option of slipping cards into pockets or a wallet. If you do not have any of these options you can pull out your cell phone to get relevant details.
Post Event Follow-Up
The single most important thing you should do in the days following a networking event is to follow up by phone or email with the people you met at the event. This is where all of those business cards will come in handy!
My preferred method of follow-up is email because it avoids a potentially awkward game of phone tag. A short, concise note containing your name and a detail about your conversation should do the trick. This could be something from your conversation or a useful resource/article. The goal is to make them feel special and like you were actually paying attention to your conversation with them.
If you find that you need a little more structure for your first follow ups HubSpot published 12 Templates for Follow Up Emails After a Meeting, Conference, and More to help you out!
Veni, Vidi, Vici
If you’ve followed my advice you’re well on your way to conquering your first networking event! While its no early Briton its still a pretty monumental accomplishment! Remember like any skill networking will improve with practice, and who knows maybe you’ll move from networking novice to networking ninja!
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