Ah, networking. Whether you love it or hate it (and let’s be honest—most people hate it), it’s a crucial part of professional growth. So, how can you make it easier? We spoke with 11 networking masters about what they do to make the process more comfortable—and more fruitful. Most of our experts covered in-person networking (think conferences, luncheons, or even casual run-ins), while our final two experts tackled online networking. In each case, their tips are both practical and valuable. Check them out below!
Q1: What is your number one tip for networking in person?
1. Be a person.
My number one tip for networking in person is, be a person. An actual, living, breathing person. Don’t hide behind your device. Look people in the eye and lead with your humanity. Let them know that you’re a human being hoping to connect in an authentic way. Personally, I wear a nametag twenty-four seven. It disarms strangers, starts the self-disclosure ball rolling, gives people one less new person to remember, and takes a stand for my values. It may look nerdy, but not as nerdy as how someone else might feel when they forget my name.
Head of Content at Metric Digital
2. Organize your own events during conferences.
Networking at conferences can be chaotic, and if the conference is large enough, you may have difficulty organically running into the people that you would like to see. That’s why my number one strategy is proactively organizing my own events outside the conference. For instance, I’ll set up a dinner either the night before or one evening when there are no official events. I’ll scrutinize the list of attendees in advance and send out invitations, and most people are very happy to be invited because it takes the pressure off of them to plan a social event, and they know that they’re going to have the opportunity to interact with other interesting conference-goers. It’s a great way to get quality time with the people I want to meet and add value to our connection.
Keynote Speaker, Contributor at Harvard Business Review
3. Be passionate.
Let’s face it—if you’re in sales and client services, chances are you’re going to have to network at industry events. Many people find this experience to be somewhat daunting, but in reality, it’s pretty easy and you can make it fun! Meeting new people should be an exciting challenge.
Remember that most people are in the same position as you, so don’t fear. Here are some tips to help you have the most impact at an event:
- Be Passionate. No one likes a snooze! Try to connect within the first minute without coming across as being too salesy.
- Listen. First impression is everything. Make sure you are listening and also pay attention to body language.
- Pitch. Get a quick elevator pitch down. Keep it simple!
- Express interest. Ask what’s the best way to follow up (email, text, LinkedIn, etc.). Make sure you follow up that same day to keep it fresh.
- Notes. Always take notes after the conversation so you can add that to your follow-up.
- Be Memorable. Think about how you can stand out and don’t feel like you have to meet every single person in the room. Less is more!
Co-founder of Social Native
4. Start with non-work-related talk.
My biggest piece of advice: ask something other than “so what do you do?” when meeting people. Instead, consider beginning your introductory questions with something deliberately non-work-related and trusting that the context of the meeting will eventually steer the conversation back to work-related topics. Doing so will increase the chances of finding multiple commonalities in your new contacts—and maybe even a friend.
Author of FRIEND OF A FRIEND
5. Use business cards to your advantage.
One of the key aspects of in-person networking is that it is often impromptu with limited opportunities to have your resume on hand. A great substitute is a personal business card or a mini resume on a business card or postcard. Tools like these can highlight your target titles, industries, and geographic preferences, provide links to your social media accounts/LinkedIn profile, and include your contact information. They can also be used to deliver a short version of your Why-Buy-ROI (why your next employer should hire you + the return-on-investment your hire typically delivers to the company) or personal commercial.
Don’t limit yourself to a one-sided business card, though—use the back of the card or choose a folded version with two inside sections. Showcase as much of your career brand as possible in a pocket-sized form you can carry with you at all times and disseminate strategically at in-person events.
Career, Job Search, LinkedIn & Interviewing Coach, and Certified Master Resume Writer
My number one suggestion for attending networking events is to prepare. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure that you have a stack of business cards. If you’re a job seeker, have cards made up to show your professional contact information and title.
- Figure out who may be attending. You can look through LinkedIn, professional groups, the website for the event, or professional and personal friends who may have attended events like this in the past.
- Create a simple networking/elevator speech and practice it. Don’t make it rehearsed. Think about what you love about your field and it will come through.
- Come up with some conversation openers and questions; what you like or dislike about a topic, what speakers inspire you, who you might have in common at an organization or professional group.
- When you get home after the event, follow-up with your new contacts. Schedule a meeting through telephone or email or connect through LinkedIn. If connecting electronically, share something that you spoke of at the event so that they will remember you.
- Not everyone is a great networker. Extroverts seem to have an easier time with it than introverts. If you are an introvert, focus on listening, have a few prepared questions and try to relax.
Nancy (Range) Anderson
President of Blackbird Learning Associates
7. Make an impact after the event.
My #1 top for networking in person is to follow up AFTER the event.
Take the focus away from the event itself. Don’t rely on the person you met to remember you. Send an email. Connect on LinkedIn. Send a personal message and relate to the conversation you had at the event. Then make a point of keeping regularly in touch.
Too many people rely on making an impact at the event itself.
Author of Business Networking for Dummies
8. Add value for others.
My number one tip is to do your research in advance, reach out in advance, and add value when you can. Give first and don’t expect anything back from others. Give to givers as it’s nice to do business with those types of people. Connect the dots and create value for others.
Co-Founder of Speaker & Authors Networking Group (SANG)
9. Choose events wisely.
One of my top tips is to be thoughtful about which events you will attend or not attend to increase the likelihood of success once you are there. When deciding which ones to attend, consider events with great attendees AND great information that will leave you with some game-changing ideas for your business.
Co-founder and CEO of CADRE, an un-networking community in Washington, DC, which currently supports over 80 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business leaders
Q2: What is your number one tip for networking online?
10. Look for opportunities to add value to your network.
My #1 tip for networking online is to always look for opportunities GIVE FIRST and ADD VALUE to your network. What do you give? Information, guidance, your own expertise or insights from others. This is easy to do using platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. For example, if you learned something new or come across a helpful article or piece of advice that you’re sure your entire network (or someone within it) would be interested in—share it! Or if they’ve shared something with you that you find valuable, “like” it, comment on it, or share it with your network too—and let them know you’ve done it. I try to never let a day pass without sharing something meaningful, helpful or inspiring to my online network of HR contacts. It might be a short sentence, an entire article, or a recommended HR book. I believe it is this kind of online sharing and mutually beneficial “conversations” that will both nurture and grow your network of relationships online. Finally, don’t wait for others to do it, you GO FIRST!
Founder of Success in HR, Author of The New HR Leader’s First 100 Days
11. Build relationships with people.
Don’t be guilty of “premature solicitation!” That’s where someone tries to sell you their product or service before ever developing a professional relationship with you. Networking (online or face-to-face), is not about cold-calling people. Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about building relationships with people. That’s the best way to network.
Ivan Misner, Ph.D.
Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI