Crap, I have to go and talk to strangers!
Networking. The art of meeting new people, handing out your business cards, and shaking hands. Simple enough right? Not really. If you are like me and are a bit shy then the prospect of networking leaves you feeling queasy. However, networking is a necessary career skill. No matter your job and no matter the industry you work in you should learn to network. But, what are the benefits of networking? And do you really need to spend time crafting this skill?
Three Benefits of Networking
By networking successfully you open yourself up to countless opportunities. Everything from amazing job offers to lifelong business partnerships can be forged through networking.
Conferences, industry meetings, and educational sessions are great places to meet and learn from other professionals in your field. Taking time to talk to someone new and asking them insightful questions will increase your knowledge of your industry and help you generate new ideas.
Good networkers are seen as good leaders. And good leaders are offered amazing leadership opportunities. If you are looking to get a promotion or take the next step up the career ladder focus on networking. Especially at events that your boss is attending!
Now, I will be totally honest. I am not the world’s best networker. I find it physically draining and scary at times but, it is a skill I am keen to master.
Working on my networking skills over the last four years has made me more comfortable and confident. I am not as terrified as I used to be. I still have lots to learn but, here are a few things that really helped me improve my skills and get more comfortable networking:
Three Ways to Improve Your Networking Skills
Get a Mentor
Having a mentor was the number one thing that helped me improve my networking skills. A mentor can be anyone from a work colleague to a former professor. Just find someone who attends similar industry events as you and has networking skills you admire.
Also, talk to your boss. During my annual reviews, my boss and I chat about my career goals and any professional development I want to complete in the coming year. When I was first hired I highlighted to my boss that I wanted to improve my presentation and networking skills. By letting her know my goals, she has been able to help me identify opportunities to network and has pushed me out of my comfort zone when needed.
However, if a physical mentor is not available to you, go digital. Watch TED Talks, find inspirational Youtuber’s to follow or head over to Pinterest to find career-themed blogs to read.
Have Something Interesting to Say
One of the things that always held me back from networking successfully was the feeling that I had nothing interesting to say. This was not true but, it was how I felt.
To combat this feeling of inadequacy I made two key changes in my personal life:
First, I Traveled
Being able to talk about a recent trip or a cool cuisine I tried abroad gave me confidence. Also, having to navigate around new countries and speak different languages left me feeling capable.
Talking about travel is also a fantastic icebreaker. I have found that most people enjoy talking about their vacation plans and that the topic of travel easily segues into other subjects; helping to keep the conversation going.
Second, I Started Reading Non-Fiction
I have always been an avid reader. However, when I started to incorporate non-fiction books into my repertoire my grasp on current events and the world around me soared. Feeling like I was “in the know” gave me the confidence to join in on or start conversations.
Look and Feel Your Best
I hate shopping and clothes have never looked good on me. I never felt confident in what I was wearing and do not even get me started on my hair and make-up.
What is mascara? And why should I take five minutes to blow dry my hair?
Basically, I was just not confident in my appearance. I felt shabby and not put together. Which killed my ability to network effectively.
To rectify this situation I did two things:
First, I Got Myself Some Clothes
It was painful. But, I went out and bought myself new clothes. I enlisted the help of my best friend and we spent an entire day at the mall finding me a few key pieces so I could start building up my professional wardrobe.
This is when I discovered dresses. Yes, dresses! I, the borderline tomboy found out that a simple sleek work dress made me feel confident, and most importantly, capable. I found them easy to wear (they are an entire outfit on one garment!) and they actually looked good on me.
Dresses are now a staple item in my work wardrobe and over the years I have built up a bit of a collection.
My tip is to bite the bullet and spend time finding pieces of clothing that make you feel confident and capable. Do not worry if they are bang on trend. Look instead for simple classical pieces that fit you well (get items tailored if needed) and that you can build on over the years.
Second, I Sorted Out My Hair and Make-Up
I am going to be totally honest again. I am still not good at doing my makeup and I am a disaster at doing my hair. But, I am learning and most importantly I am experimenting (on the weekends!) with my look.
What has really inspired me to make changes are amazing beauty vloggers on Youtube.
Zoella introduced me to the miracle of liquid lipsticks, Tanya Burr introduced me to a mascara that does not burn my eyes, and Cute Girl Hairstyles has shown me how to vamp up my plain ponytail.
I will never be a big hair and make-up girl but, by learning simple tricks of the trade I can now create a more polished and professional look when needed.
Know Your Shit & Be Prepared
When getting ready for a major networking opportunity, like a conference, study up before you go. Yes, study. Learn the day’s agenda, research the presenters, and make sure you are up to date on the latest news, statistics, and advancements in your industry.
Now you do not need to be an expert or know absolutely everything but, knowing a few things will help you to carry a conversation and ask the people you meet relevant questions.
Finally, be prepared. Always have the following items with you:
Bring a stack. You never want to run out and make sure that all the information on your card is current. If you do not have business cards get some. You can get simple ones made up at most office supply stores for under twenty dollars.
Carry at least three working black or blue ink pens with you. Someone always needs a pen. Having a few you can give out will make you look prepared and it is a great way to start a conversation.
Have a simple solid covered notebook. Nothing with hearts or flowers on it. Notebooks are great for taking session notes but, also come in handy for networking. People do not always have business cards on them so, having a notebook for these unprepared people to write their contact information in is handy. Also, after finishing conversations with new contacts you can jot down a key point or two from your chat. This will commit the encounter to your memory allowing you to build upon your conversation should you meet again.
A Good Hand Shake
Your handshake is your first impression so make sure you bring a good one to your next networking event. There is nothing worse than meeting someone, shaking their hand, and being put off because their handshake was weak, way too intense, or just plain creepy. Practice your handshake with your co-workers, your partner, or better yet your Grandparents. Grandparents are masters at handshakes especially if they worked in an office during their youth.
Feeling any better about networking? I hope so.
Remember that becoming a skilled networker takes time. Years in fact. But, hopefully, this guide has provided you with one or two tidbits that will kick your networking skills up a notch.
One final piece of advice. Be yourself. Know that you have something to say and that something is important.