The seasons are (finally) changing. As the weather turns warmer, more and more networking events will be heading outdoors and in more social situations. Instead of being crammed in small rooms with little real estate or variety in the event, summer is the best time to start venturing out if you’re a networking novice. With room to move at outdoor venues and a variety of activities, here are a couple tips to get started.
• Have Business Cards: Vistaprint, Staples, Office Max, Office Depot and a host of other office supply companies offer business cards, some as inexpensive as 500 for $10.00. All offer templates to design your card (walk the line between ‘memorable’ and ‘busy’). The following information should be on your card:
— Contact information: use your personal e-mail address and your cell phone number and/or your home number. Don’t use your work e-mail or work phone number unless you are networking on behalf of your company—then use your company card.
— Link to your LinkedIn profile (you can personalize this as well on your profile)
• Prepare An Elevator Pitch: originally meant to last the length of an elevator ride, this is a quick summary that introduces you, your profession, product, service, organization, or event and its value to the person you’re talking with. It’s a great way to break the ice. Small talk can move from the typical topics like the weather to the venue or the event.
• Have Your LinkedIn Profile Activated: a great trigger for follow-up, you can send out an invitation to the people you’ve met, but don’t use the generic invitation. Send a personalized message: “I enjoyed meeting you last night at the 20/30 Networking event and learning more about your company.” Mention something specific about your conversation and keep the invitation quick. If your new contact doesn’t have a LinkedIn account, send a quick e-mail.
• Make It A Date: networking events are on listed in local business magazines and on their websites, in LinkedIn groups and Facebook, on websites for professional organizations and alumni associations.
You can network at recreational events, such as your adult kickball league or a golf outing. Many cities host the Corporate Challenge program, where businesses can compete in activities as a team.
• Listen And Ask Questions: people like to talk about themselves, so be ready to ask questions, but be sure to listen so you can ask a great question. Keep the conversation going and share a little about yourself.
• Use Names: if someone makes the first move and introduce themselves, follow it up: “Hi Dan, nice to meet you, I’m Anna Greene, I’m a sales associate at Market Square.”
• Be Yourself: professional, respectful, inquisitive, a great listener, polite — someone your grandmother would be proud of. Many networking events are centralized around an after work cocktail hour, be mindful of your alcohol intake. (Also: clarify with your employer if there is an alcohol policy at networking events.)
If you’re new to networking, or uneasy in social settings, these events are the perfect practice because of the added activities. It will offer you a chance to relax and enjoy the event and give you the opportunity to sharpen those networking skills.