I’ve been thinking about networking a lot recently. Since striking out on my own I’ve found myself in very different networking situations from the ones I was involve in in my science and technology transfer careers, which were mainly limited to networking at conferences twice a year. Now, I have a mission to meet at least 5 new people per week and so I have to find new networking opportunities with people I would not previously had the ability to meet.
I’ve also been learning a lot about networking. As scientists, we tend to be C types on the DISC profile and we are less relational than other personality types such as the I. That makes networking appear more difficult on first glace. Since we are not taught that networking is a skill that can be learned, we tend assume that we just don’t have the ‘right’ personality to network well, and feel anxious about the process.
For the past year, I’ve been on an incredible growth journey and as part of that personal and professional growth and development I took a sales course that included networking skills. It opened my eyes to a few simple things I could do to make my networking experience better. At the very next networking event I went to, which just happened to be with a group of scientists, I tried out the tips and they worked! I even made a new friend, which has never happened before at a networking event.
I’ve also been reading a lot about mindset and some of that new knowledge also applies to networking. If you have a fixed mindset about networking, where you have decided that you are not good at networking, are anxious that you will feel awkward and won’t know what to say, then you naturally withdraw and don’t even try. If you adopt a growth mindset, approach networking as a learnable skill, and strangers as fascinating new friends in the making, then it changes everything.
Here are 10 tips to improve your networking experience:
1. Don’t go with a friend and don’t make a bee-line for people you already know.
2. Arrive early, before people have started to huddle into groups that can be difficult to break into.
3. Find someone you’ve never met before, who isn’t in a group yet (since you arrived early) and go and introduce yourself.
4. It’s not all about you! Get over it. Don’t worry about what to say, or how awkward you feel. Become fascinated by other people.
5. Don’t give a long elevator pitch about yourself. Have something original to say that sounds fascinating or intriguing so that someone wants to know more, but keep it short.
6. Ask open ended questions about the person’s job / business, family, interests. Remember, people love to talk about themselves. If you are really nervous, memorize a couple of questions to start with.
7. Keep focusing the questions back on the other person and really listen to what they have to say. That way you won’t need to worry about what to say.
8. Don’t scan the room while you are talking to someone – stay engaged.
9. Find a way you can help the person with introductions or ask how you can help their business.
10. Before you leave a person ask them for their business card, and then offer yours. Make sure to follow up!