While you might think it impossible, there are ways to make networking events less miserable. I know what you're thinking — there aren't exactly many people that run up to the doors of a networking event with sparklers in their hands. The whole ordeal can sometimes be a miserable thing, the equivalent of you standing in the doors of your cafeteria, holding a tray and trying to figure out where to sit. But with a couple of strategies, you won't be forced to go eat your ham sandwich in the bathroom, even if you might be more comfortable there.
The trick of succeeding in a networking event, and even — gasp! — like it is to treat it like a super-casual date. You're just here to hear people's stories, listen to the wonderful things they're cookin' up with their own two hands and to become inspired by their passion. Along the way you might even be able to help them with a thing or two, walking away with the satisfaction that you helped someone build on their dreams. When put that way, the whole ordeal sounds pretty cool, right? So let's work on taking out the stigma of networking — below are 11 ways to make networking events less miserable.
1. Pick Only The Fun Ones
You don't have to pop into every networking event available to you — instead, only choose the ones that spark your interest. Career development site The Muse suggested, "Don’t just go to any old event — choose events where you know you'll have something in common with people, like conferences that relate specifically to your industry." You can even take it one step further and focus on the venue, too. Go to the ones that are hosted at fun bars or restaurants that you've been meaning to try out, or in cool parts of the city that'll allow you to go explore in afterwards. Make it a whole affair!
2. Zero In On The People Just As Nervous As You Are
While there's going to be a good amount of people at the event that are chatting up storms, there will also be some wallflowers hanging back. Zero in on them. Online marketer Neil Patel from entrepreneur site Quick Sprout explained, "While you probably see lots of people talking to each other, you will also probably see several people sitting at tables looking through the event guide or talking on their phones. These people are probably nervous about talking to new people, so they are avoiding it by looking busy." So go save them and chat. You'll feel on more even ground because they're probably just as nervous as you are, and the whole thing will be less intimidating.
3. Focus On Building Relationships
Rather than looking to swap business cards, focus on building relationships instead. It becomes more meaningful and fun that way. Career writer Mike Fishbein from Entrepreneur suggested, "Learn to appreciate the experience of getting to know someone and building a relationship. Talk about stuff you like to talk about and ask questions that you legitimately want to hear the answer to." Make it an evening well spent.
If you feel like a deer in headlights in big crowds, do some research to take the edge off. The Muse advised, "Before any event, research the attendees ahead of time by looking at the guest list or checking Twitter to see who’s tweeting in advance of the event. Find out who they are, where they work, and what the overall dynamic is going to be at the event." That way you'll already have topics at hand and ice breakers ready.
5. Go Online
If mingling isn't your thing, you can always make professional contacts online. Career writer Nicole Fallon from Business News Daily offered, "A great first step to finding like-minded professional contacts is by joining industry groups on LinkedIn and Facebook." You can also connect on Twitter, comment on blog posts, and chat through Instagram as well. There are so many options that have nothing to do with happy hours.
6. It Doesn't Need To Be A Formal Event
This just in: Networking doesn't have to happen over cocktails and high tops. You can do it anywhere, so if the whole formal atmosphere isn't your thing, tap into different options. The Muse suggested, "See if there’s a conference you can attend, a hackathon you can participate in, or even a project you can help with. These sorts of events will put you in a much more collaborative environment that will allow you to get to know people in a different way than by simply drilling them with questions." Expand your options.
7. Ask For Advice
Make the person you're chatting with feel like an expert by asking for advice. Not only will that open up an interesting conversation, but the two of you can easily share stories and experiences that way. Fallon advised, "People love to give advice, so ask them if you can pick their brains about their job or industry, or if they can offer advice on your current career situation." It's a win for everyone.
8. Connect Beforehand
Seriously though, who isn't online these days? To make these interactions less awkward, find a couple of people that are attending that you're interested in, and begin building your relationship online beforehand. Fishbein suggested, "To 'warm up' your cold call, try interacting with them online by responding to their tweets or commenting on their blog." Then when you see them at the event, it won't be so awkward.
9. Think Of How You Can Contribute
People will more likely help you if you first offer something in return — such is the name of the game when networking. So when you get a business card and your chat is up, think of what you can offer that contact and scribble it on the back of your business card. That's how your relationship will start. Patel explained, "Instead, only contact them when it is absolutely necessary and you know you can offer them an extraordinary benefit for talking to you. If you can appeal to their self-interest, they will most certainly love to talk to you."
10. Set Goals
It's easier to go to something that intimidates you if you have a certain goal in mind to lead you through. That way it doesn't feel so open-ended and unstructured. Fallon pointed out, "If you're not a natural social butterfly, it's unreasonable to expect that you'll introduce yourself to 10 or 15 new people at a networking event." So instead, set a reasonable goal for yourself like promising to meet at least four people and exchange info.
11. Make It About Them
Rather than feeling the pressure to say your elevator pitch a hundred times that evening, focus on learning about those that you meet. Patel pointed out, "You have to earn the right to be heard about what you do and what you want to accomplish. People really don’t care about what you do until they know that you care about what they do." So treat it like a coffee date — look for stories, and enjoy the ambition and drive that you hear.
Pretty soon you'll be looking forward to those networking invites.