Hello My Name Is: Networking in the Digital Age
In this day and age you can cash a check, apply for a home mortgage or even diagnose that nagging cough without ever speaking to someone face-to-face. And although the market is flooded with similar digital offerings for networking, there’s something about a firm handshake and an awkward introduction that beats a “friend request” any day. The key, however, is to learn how to harness these tools to make worthwhile connections and make you stand out from the crowd. Here are 4 tips on how to do just that:
1. Do your homework.
Picture this…you are about to host a dinner party for your closest friends so you head to the grocery store, completely forgetting your shopping list. You waste hours roaming the aisles, trying to remember if you still have bread or if you are fresh out of milk. This is exactly how it feels to walk into a networking event unprepared. Well before you are handed your “Hello, my name is” name tag, you should know who is in attendance and who you would like to meet. The guest list is networking gold. Whether you are looking for a job or trying to scrounge up new business, determine which companies you want to speak with and maybe even send an email letting them know you will be there. Remember, you only have so much time so be smart with your decisions. If the list isn’t public, turn to the little blue bird….Twitter. Nowadays, before guests even step foot in an event, they’re already talking about it on social media. Search the event hashtag and start the conversation with your soon-to-be connections. You would be surprised how many professional relationships have started through Twitter.
2. Stalk. Really, it’s okay.
Because LinkedIn has the feature that we are so thankful Facebook did without — “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” — people are often wary about searching for their ‘prey’. However, when a person sees that you are snooping their profile, it lets them know you are interested. If you would still rather stay anonymous, either sign-up for the LinkedIn Premium service or simply logout of your account and Google: the name of the person, their company and “LinkedIn”. This will lead you to their page with no trace of you or the “creative thinker” endorsement from your mom.
3. Be relevant.
New acquaintances tend to fall in one of three categories: people who only want to talk about themselves (do NOT be this person), people who resort to talking about the weather (do NOT be this person) and lastly, people who capture our attention with their worldly banter and trivia-contest-winning knowledge in just a short 5 minute introduction (BE this person). Just as you did with your newspaper clippings in third grade, you should always be up-to-date on current events. With 24-hour-streaming news channels it is hard to cut through the clutter so instead I recommend checking out TheSkimm, an e-newsletter delivered to your inbox each morning. This tongue-in-cheek publication provides a quick and dirty overview of topics you need to navigate the “Did you see…?” or “Have you heard…?” conversations inherent at a networking event. In addition to being able to carry a conversation about politics, sports or international relations, make sure you’re also armed with a few unexpected topics to keep things interesting. Things like hot culinary trends or the new startup “unicorns” are a great way to spark conversation. A few resources that I would suggest are VentureBeat, SportTechie,FWx, The Broadsheet, AdWeek and Wired. For a complete list of recommended Tech and Business blogs and websites, check out this article on The Muse.
4. Follow through.
Your networking session was a success. You made worthwhile connections, you worked the room, and even have a handful of potential leads. Now what? Before you leave the building, it is important to take the first steps in what I refer to as the “reinforcement stage”. Studies show that reinforcement is important in forming memories because it moves the relationship from short-lived categories to longer-lasting ones. Be memorable. Towards the end of the event, take one last walk around the room to let the people you met know that it was a pleasure getting to know them. Repeat their name, refer to something you discussed, and trade business cards (insider trick — create business cards that are odd in shape or material to make sure they stick out). And, just as you would in the world of dating, don’t reach out that night — too desperate — but don’t wait a week or the impact will be lost. Whether through email, LinkedIn or even Twitter never forget to follow up.
These digital tools can help increase your networking success, however, it really starts with YOU, the person behind it all. Here are some additional tips on how to bring a little bit of humanity back into your strategy:
- Exude positivity. No one wants to hear about your bad day or that the wine at the bar isn’t up to snuff.
- Be nice to everyone. Not just your fellow guests but also the dozens of people who are to thank for such a great event: registration attendants, bartenders, etc. Your kindness and approachability will attract those around you.
- Avoid bringing a buddy…unless you find someone who has the same goal as you. Arrive together but divide and conquer, putting your networking skills to the test. Decide to “meet by the bar” in 30 minutes where you can introduce each other to your new connections, therefore increasing your network by twofold.
- Never think you are interrupting. Remember, people are there to meet people. Wait for the right time, pay attention to social cues, and subtly join the conversation without overpowering it.
Armed with these insights and your innate characteristics, you are now ready to broaden and strengthen your network, online and in-person. Always remember to leverage your digital platforms but NEVER underestimate the importance of real-life connections.
“Who are you to preach this advice?” you may ask. Well, hello, my handle is @katikasch and it is a pleasure to meet you.