Going to a networking event might give you stage fright, especially if you don’t know anyone. But networking can provide huge payoffs. Even if you haven’t had much success at networking events in the past, it doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future–networking is a skill that you develop over time. Each event is different and each gives you a new opportunity to hone your skills.
Perfecting the “elevator pitch” is crucial to improving your networking skills. The key to a successful elevator pitch is to get your point across in 30 seconds or less without sounding like a mindless salesman. Try to build a conversation from this pitch so as not to sound like you are simply selling something. Make sure to appeal to your audience; explain specifically how what you are providing will help them, instead of repeating the same pitch to many different people. Ask questions.
If you are intimidated by meeting a large number of people at a networking event, remember you don’t need to meet everyone in the room–the thought of this can be overwhelming. Instead try to make meaningful connections. Channel your nervous energy into meeting people and engaging them. It helps to attend networking events that offer a workshop or a speaker so you have an ice breaker topic once the networking time begins.
Online networking is becoming an incredibly popular and a rewarding complement to in-person networking. Try to create a unique personal brand on social media, especially on LinkedIn. Remember that hiring managers and recruiters will peruse plenty of LinkedIn pages everyday–so make your page stand out. LinkedIn groups are another effective social networking tool because they allow people with similar interests and goals to connect with one another. If you already have an established in-person group of professionals, think about starting your own LinkedIn group or joining like-minded groups to share your skills and abilities.
When forming a networking group–either on LinkedIn or in real life–decide if having a closed or having an open group is better for your needs. While larger, open groups have the appeal of helping you reach more people, they tend to be unfocused. Closed networks, however, do not provide the opportunity to connect with as many new people, but do allow for focused and meaningful discussions among people you are more likely to establish offline connections with.
Make sure to promptly follow-up with any contacts made at a networking event. You can send them a follow-up email, or even connect with them on LinkedIn. Successful networking, either in-person or online, can lead to a new contact, new business venture, or even a new career. Don’t take for granted the possibilities of networking.