Building relationships is just like growing plants. Meetings are like planting seeds which have the potential to either sprout or die in incubation. Although I don’t know much about growing plants besides watering them and putting them in the sun, I know something about networking.
Before I started writing about event management software at Capterra, I worked for several political nonprofits and a few political publications as a journalist. These positions were demanding when it came to building new relationships with people I had never met. Because of that, I’ve fostered relationships with professionals in all sorts of industries.
Despite my introverted nature, I understood the necessity of breaking out of my shell for my own benefit. After years of refining networking strategy, I want to share my ultimate guide to fostering relationships at your networking event.
1. Choose your networking area wisely
“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” — Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Networking runs under the same principle as the quote above. Networking to your advantage is all about location, location, location. You won’t make many connections while standing in the corner or sitting at empty tables.
The bar is easily the most heavily trafficked area in any networking event. Positioning yourself around the bar will increase your chances of meeting and speaking to worthwhile connections. But don’t make the mistake of standing right at the bar. Attendees are crowding around the bartender in hopes of getting their drinks. Shouting over the countless drink orders is not a great way to establish a new connection.
Instead, seek out locations on the route to the bar and catch people as they leave the bar with their drink. This way you won’t fight crowds or compete for their attention while surrounded by other thirsty attendees.
2. Come with the mindset to give, not to receive
Networking is not just about you. While there are obvious personal benefits to networking, such as solidifying your next career move, it is more about how you will help others. It goes without saying in that most instances we are more likely to remember those who offered to help us rather than those who asked for favors or jobs.
The purpose of networking is not to secure your next position, it’s to establish worthwhile professional connections and if you aren’t memorable or useful to those you speak to, you are wasting your time as well as theirs. Arriving with a giving mindset places you above the competition who are all looking for their next career move.
By helping and giving your talents to others, you are inadvertently placing yourself in a better position for favors in the future. These favors spark off professional relationships and even friendships which lead to greater future returns.
3. Ask for professional opinions
One thing all networking events have in common is the immense pool of knowledge available when bringing a professional community together. There was once a time where I couldn’t have imagined working in the tech industry while I was swamped in the D.C. political scene, but now write for the benefit of event professionals because I asked questions of those outside of my sphere.
Don’t just stop at asking people where they work and what they do. Probe deeper into how they secured their role, the hurdles they had to jump, and the skills they had to acquire. Ask for their opinions on their role and of their industry as a whole. The information you receive may influence your future career decisions, just as it did for me.
4. Quality over quantity
I can rely on my closest friends more often than I can count on my multitudes of distant acquaintances. That’s not to say these acquaintances aren’t good people, but my closest friends know the most about me and are more likely to have my best interests at heart.
Networking works in a similar manner. It is better to foster relationships with a few quality individuals rather than making your way around the room to meet every attendee.
Ask yourself, just how many people can you remember from your last networking event? I’m sure you don’t remember the one guy wandering around from person to person who bumped into you for five seconds, right? No one does. Don’t be that guy.
Networking is all about quality over quantity. If at all possible, spend at least a good ten minutes getting to know someone. As mentioned in the previous section, ask about the intricacies of their position, casually bring up things you enjoy your free time if they are relevant, or discuss their feelings about the event. These interactions make for a much more personable and genuine discussion rather just going through the robotic motion of handing out business cards.
Speaking of business cards…
5. Don’t forget your business cards
Smartphone apps like LinkedIn have made exchanging information much easier, but it still helps to keep business cards on hand if one of you is in a hurry.
Don’t just remember your business cards, but make sure your business cards are memorable themselves.
For example, I’ve had a business card sitting on my desk for a week now which was given to me by a data consultant. While I don’t feel the need to reach out to him, I keep his business card on my desk because it is impressive.
The card is matte black, plastic, and has a simple and appealing vertical layout. It is honestly the coolest business card I’ve ever received and I’m keeping it. From the way I see it, if his business card is of high quality, chances are he takes his career seriously. Though I don’t need to reach out to him today, when I do need to find a data consultant, I know who I will reach out to.
6. Work on your elevator pitch
Ever run into someone who just rambles on and on with no direction or purpose?
Please don’t torture your prospective network connections and get to the point using your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a twenty to thirty second pitch, akin to the length of an elevator ride.
Once you’ve introduced yourself to your potential connection and moved past your obligatory exchanging of job titles, it’s time to move into the heart of the discussion, which is finding where you all may be of help to each other. Then you bring your elevator pitch. Explain how your skills may be of use to the other party and their organization and mention your own successes. By covering the basics such as name and position first, you make it easier to tailor your pitch to your audience.
Finish your elevator pitch with a probing question which invites your prospect to explain their own needs. A brief elevator pitch is perfect to set off a more meaningful and in-depth conversation, leading to better networking connections.
7. Wear a talking point
When attending a networking event, be sure to wear something easy to bring up in discussion. In my case, my talking points are my pins. I always wear a different lapel pin to every event. These act as fantastic conversation starters, especially within my circles.
For women, a talking point may be a unique necklace or bracelet. Whatever it may be, these accessories are the perfect icebreaker for any conversation. No matter what you wear, it sure beats talking about the weather. We all know it’s nice or ugly outside and chances are we had to walk through it to get where we are now.
8. Take some brief notes
After your encounter with your networking connection, remember to collect their business card and jot down some personal notes about them on the back. Our memories are flawed and when you spend a few hours at a networking event talking with multiple people, it doesn’t hurt to have some written reminders.
These reminders should include unique personal details, their responsibilities, and their availability. These details will come in handy in the future when you decide to reach out to your connections and you want to show the attention you paid to your discussion. Personal touches goes a long way in establishing a lasting connection.
The seed has been planted. Now what?
If you’ve followed the eight points of this guide, chances are you are on your way to growing these professional relationships into valuable resources. Networking is a game of give and take. Going into it with the mindset of personal benefit and nothing else will leave you connectionless, because no one wants to help someone who has nothing to offer in return. Unless they are very generous, which is a rare attribute, especially in fields I am familiar with.
In order to make your network work for you in the future, be sure to check out this article from the Harvard Business Review all about the topic. This article was formative in my first years in the District and I’m sure it will be just as helpful for you.
So, what networking techniques have worked best for you? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below!