How many of you shiver when you hear “networking”? Or do you jump for joy?
If you are in the latter category, then congratulations and you can stop reading. However, if you are from the first category, here are some tips that might be able to help you to overcome the crippling anxiety. You won’t necessarily fall in love with networking, but at least it should get you past some of the jitters.
If you ever turned down a chance for networking then later on regret it, then please read on.
1. Stop the self-defeating inner voice:
When that pesky little voice in your head pops up and start ear-worming: “don’t go and talk to him/her, they will just shoot you down” or “what if they don’t want to talk to me?” Then it’s time to get out your baton, and whack that self-doubting voice on the head.
How do you know what the other person is thinking? How do you know what might happen if you don’t even try? Don’t fail yourself before others do, it’s not a race.
2. Self-affirming/promoting talk:
The next step is to replace that whinny self-doubting inner voice with one that will quickly become your best friend, the self-affirming talk. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you possibly convince other people to believe in you? Be your own best advocate.
We all have something valuable to share. Start with some short phrases such as “I am highly skilled in ELISA and I know I can offer something valuable” or “I have a great idea for increasing the efficiency of LS-MS, I will bet that s/he would be interested to hear it.” It might sound a bit pompous at first, but it’s a good idea to focus on expertise that you have in these self-affirming phrases, it makes them more realistic and believable than the generic “I am fantastic, everyone should love me.”
3. What is your message to the other person?
Now you are pumped up and you know you have something to offer to the other person, organize your thought in one sentence, no more than that, no one likes it when a stranger comes up to them and just starts on an aimless rant. Have a concise message.
What do you want to tell the other person? Why do they need to know it? How can you package that message in an appetizing bite? You want to do this before you arrive at the event, write a few versions of your message or opening sentence down and pick out a couple that pack most punch and memorize them. They should roll of your tongue easily and automatically.
We are judged within minutes if not seconds by others before we even open our mouth. It’s better to overdress a little than to be underdressed. Understand the attire requirement of the event and adhere to it. It’s neither the time nor place to drag out your favorite tattered college sweatshirt or techno-colored jeggings. Project a confident and professional image, because we can never undo the impact of that first impression.
5. Anticipate your audience’s response:
This does not mean you should exhaustively imagine all the possible responses your target could give you. That’s a waste of time, and you are not a 1-800 psychic. Just play a game of chess, think what your target might ask after you deliver your opening line, what might be a follow up question? For example, “Mr. Target, I understand that you were the founder of XXX Company, the YYY product has been a tremendous help in our lab, and I would love to know about the YYY product development process.” They might reply, “Okay, which aspects of the development would you like to know?”
Don’t be the fool who just stands there looking stumped, do your homework and have a response that shows you are genuinely interested and have done your homework, say “since my work involves using YYY in the protein extraction process, I would like to know how you improved on the impurity removal step?” Keep your target engaged, listen carefully and keep their attention focused on you. That doesn’t mean you should dominate the discussion, you should listen more than talk, your purpose is to engage the target so that they would like to stay connected to you, i.e. you are networking.
6. Keep it short:
This might sound counterintuitive, why am I asking you to let your target go once you have their attention? A catch and release move. That’s because normally networking is a less than 5 minute interaction. There are other people and if you latch on too long it can actually negatively impact on your subsequent chance of staying connected to that person.
You want to leave your target with a favorable impression and wanting to know more, also, a good way to segue into asking your target for contact detail. You could say “it’s been fantastic talking to you, and I would love to hear more in greater depth. Can you give me your contact details so I can follow up later?”
Besides, you want to maximize your chance of networking with other people, so you should make sure you have time to network with other people as well. However, if no other people are waiting to network with your target and you are not worried about networking with others, then go ahead and continue your discussion in depth.
7. Follow up:
Most people neglect this crucial step. Your target probably met a dozen people at the event. They might not remember you very well, so it’s time to send a reminder. Within a day of your meeting you should contact (not via phone, that can be seen as intrusive) your target with a short email or even a hand written card, old-fashioned I know, but anyone can send an email, but a hand written card is a stand out.
The written message should thank them for giving you the time and how much you enjoyed the conversation, and that you would love to learn more and express interest in further interactions.
Networking is not for the faint hearted, it takes courage and practice. Just remember, the answer will always be no if you never try, but if you try then your chance of success is always infinitely higher than the big fat no the other option inevitably gives you.