If you are like me, networking and putting yourself in a room full of people you do not know makes you want to crawl out of your skin. There is nothing more intimidating for so many of us than walking into a room full of strangers and having to spark up a conversation. So the question becomes, how do you break the ice and get yourself out there to begin to grow your professional network? How do you stop making excuses for why you cannot attend events? There are only so many “prior commitments” and “not feeling up to its,” until you realize there could be some serious untapped opportunity and life experience waiting beyond those excuses.
For me, I thought I would start at a place that was somewhat familiar to me, my hometown Chamber of Commerce. I took the approach of meeting with the Executive and Associate Director prior to attending any events. I thought, “let me at least meet them, that way at the first few events I attend I will see familiar faces and they will recognize me, knowing I am new.” When I had my first meeting with them, I asked if there was anyone they thought I should connect with.
They connected me with two gentleman, one who ran the Technology Committee, and the other who worked closely with members on how to effectively network and who also ran the Ambassador Committee. I quickly set up meetings with both of them. Now I knew 4 people, all of whom are very involved in the chamber and knew a lot of other people. I met individually with the two gentlemen before attending any chamber events. They both were wonderful and totally understanding of my apprehension, gave me some good tips and suggested I attend a few signature events where they would also be attending and could introduce me to a few more folks.
Before I knew it, I was running the Technology Committee, serving as member of the Ambassador Committee, sitting on the Board of Directors, and attending many of the chambers events. Over time, I learned which events made sense for me to attend, as networking is far less about quantity and much more about quantity. Depending on your company and what businesses you are targeting, you may find that some events are not bringing you in front of the right audience. This should not take you long to identify, and you can always ask the organizations director or board for guidance as they know their members and events best.
When I attend events I will usually circle around saying hello to the familiar faces, then picking 3 new faces to introduce myself to. Thinking that you need to meet and talk to everyone is daunting and the task itself is completely overwhelming. With the goal of meeting 3 new people at each event, your network will grow in no time.
Take Networking to the Next Level
The goal of networking should not be to make a sale. It should be to spread the word about your business with a quick 30-second overview, and to build relationships and trust. People buy from those they trust, and they will refer their friends and colleagues to those whom they feel comfortable with. The more people you know, the more connections you have, as you are not only connected with the people you know directly, but with also their personal and professional networks. It is important to connect on LinkedIn so you can follow them and stay connected.
Being involved in committees within your organization allows you to get involved as well as to establish closer relationships with those who are also on the committee or board. It gives you one-on-one time with members that you may not see at events depending on their schedules. Personally, attending after hours and before work events can be challenging but I have not let that stop me from growing my network. I have found events that fit into my work and personal life, that are impactful and enjoyable for me. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that the majority of people do not actually enjoy networking, and that most will be more than happy to talk to you.