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You’ve heard the term and you have grown accustomed to hearing it whenever someone is discussing their career—networking.  Everyone is saying you need it and you decide after turning down those morning or evening events to meet up with other professionals for a month you are going to see what all the fuss is about.  Now that you’ve committed, how will you prepare and make it a successful event for yourself?

Have a plan…or at least an idea of a plan

Plan.  Understand the environment, know who or what kind of professionals will be at the event that you would be interested in talking with, and have an idea of what you would like to see come from the time you have spent building relationships.

Knowing the lay of the land before you go can also help you avoid being under or overdressed, allow you the opportunity to prepare your business cards or materials, and overall better utilize the time at the event.

Firm handshake

Just as it sounds, a nice firm handshake when you meet people will lead to a lasting, positive first impression.  A weak grip can leave them wondering if you are timid or lack confidence, while being too dominant will make an impression of being aggressive or a little over zealous.  Is this a reflection of your work ethic?  Maybe not but at this point they have not had the chance to work with you; all they know about you right now is your ability to handle a pretty simple task.

Wondering if you have the handshake down?  Practice at home a couple minutes with someone who will give you honest feedback.  It is best to get those uncomfortable, lingering or “Hulk-like” handshakes out of your system before meeting with strangers.

Smile

A networking event might not be a day at the ballpark or a fun night out with friends (it could be both though!), you still will want to make sure you are engaged and look interested in the conversations being had.  Often a smile will go a long way in letting others know that you are approachable and are looking to meet with individuals at the event.  The good people of the world have told you for decades not to judge a book by its cover and you shouldn’t—BUT people do and will.

Smile

Eye contact

There is a fine line between respectable eye contact, awkwardly avoiding eye contact, and completely making someone feel uncomfortable because your eyes have been locked in for a good thirty minutes now.  Keep it as natural as possible.

After all, networking is meant to be made up of meaningful conversations and opportunities for relationship building—don’t blow it with something as easy as eye contact.

Eye contact shows those you are speaking with that you have confidence and can easily carry on a conversation without feeling uncomfortable.  Rarely will you see organizations post positions that are seeking out individuals that are shy or avoid human contact by all means necessary.

Elevator speech

Everyone has a past with experience that may or may not be relevant to what they are looking for; this is your opportunity to sell yourself in thirty seconds to a minute, use it wisely and in your favor.

Highlight your accomplishments and experiences that might be relevant to the audience you are speaking with.

You need to do this all while not making the small group or individual you are speaking with feel like they will need to buy a vacuum or set of knives at the end.  Again, make sure it feels comfortable and not pitchy.

Practice.  The best way to make networking and your elevator speech feel natural is practicing with a friend or even scheduling to attend additional networking events.  You can find events through different city organizations, alumni associations, or companies that might be looking to meet individuals in the area.  Get out there.

Listen more—talk less

You are trying to sell yourself—we get it, BUT often the best sales tactics involve taking in information before spouting out what you have to offer.  We have all been there, let’s say furniture shopping perusing through the living room section trying to find that perfect couch.  All of the sudden you are bombarded by a guy in khakis trying to tell you how great these reclining sectionals are when all you need is a nice simple couch to fit in your small one-bedroom bungalow home.

By listening more, you can better grasp what the group or individual you are speaking with would benefit from on your end.   Find a way to let them know—What’s in it for them?