A few weeks ago, I signed up for a conference with a few hundred other professionals who work in my field. As I was perusing the agenda the night before, I noticed that the first thirty minutes of the event were reserved for “networking and mingling.” I immediately broke into a cold sweat. As an introvert, nothing makes me more uncomfortable than having to make awkward small talk with a perfect stranger who is fully aware you’re trying to use them for a future opportunity. However, I also knew that networking is a vital part of growing my career and business. Then I had a thought: what if there were ways to create networking opportunities in my regular life that didn’t involve putting on heels or perfecting a thirty-second elevator pitch?
Turns out, there are plenty of ways to network that will likely help you make deeper connections than your average speed-networking event ever could. Here are nine ways to sneak networking opportunities into your regular life, suit or pantsuit not included.
There will be times when you’ll meet someone in your professional circles who you’d like to connect with further, but think about it. How many times have you actually kept someone’s boring, tiny business card after meeting them? Chances are, not very often. Think outside the box and use your professional skills to create a “business card” that will stand out from all the others. Are you an artist? Paint a mini watercolor and make prints with your contact information. An engineer? Create a mini puzzle with your name and phone number for your connections to keep on their desks. Here are a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
Is there a group of like-minded professionals in your area that you could join? Think about your demographic and interests and start searching. There is probably someone out there with similar interests who is also looking for ways to make new connections.
Another way to create connections is to volunteer in your community. By getting involved locally, you’ll meet people who share your passions and interests that you may have never discovered at a “networking event.” Love animals? volunteer at the animal shelter. Passionate about helping refugees? Volunteer to help teach English to new Americans. Besides making professional connections and lifelong friendships, you’ll find a sense of fulfillment that’s difficult to replicate any other way.
An easy way to calm your networking nerves and give yourself a boost of confidence is to host an event yourself for professionals in your field. Looking to meet other entrepreneurs? Host a breakfast for CEOs of local startups. Want to promote your lifestyle blog? Host a panel where other bloggers can contribute and learn how to grow their readership. If nothing else, you’ll leave with a couple of great new ideas and some great new friends.
Get into the habit of arriving a few minutes early to every event or meeting you attend. By showing up when there are few people there, you’ll have the opportunity to have more intimate conversations with other early-arrivers without the awkwardness that comes with trying to mingle in a large crowd. You’ll also be able to make a great first impression before everyone at the event is drowning in business cards and new names to remember.
Met somebody you’d like to connect with? Instead of sending a generic “let’s have lunch” email later, make it a habit to discover an interesting detail about the person you’re chatting with to make your follow-up stand out from the crush of “nice to meet you’s” they’ll be getting. Do they like cooking? Send them a link to a local cooking class you think they’d enjoy. If they’re in the process of trying to get funding for their startup, send them the name of one of your contacts you think might be able to help. You’ll make a great impression without spending too much time on a disingenuous self-pitch.
I know it’s tempting to pull out your phone when you’re waiting to grab lunch or go to the restroom, but lines are a great opportunity to have interesting conversations with people you might otherwise never meet. Spark a conversation by asking the person in front of you what they’re thinking of ordering or what they think of the event so far. You have to wait in line anyway, so you may as well use the time wisely.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, especially when you’ in the early stages of growing your business. If you’re looking to infuse your working time with more human interaction, consider joining a co-working space. Having a few new faces to bounce ideas of off could be just what you need to solve that problem you’ve been stewing over for months.
Everyone loves getting mail, and everyone especially loves getting a thank you note in the mail. Getting into the habit of sending a note to every client you work with and every mentor you have lunch with will earn you a reputation of being gracious and will help your name and business stick in the minds of the recipients.
Networking doesn’t have to be scary or stressful. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be formal. Simply take advantage of every opportunity that allows you to meet new people. Who knows? That next connection might be your big break.
(Images via Smashing Magazine.)