4 Ways to Perfect your Skills to be the Best Networker

Sarah
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You’ve heard it before: you need to network, meet the right people and ignite your career — but that doesn’t make walking into a roomful of strangers with the expectation of creating a meaningful relationship or two any less terrifying.

Who are those people? What do I say? Why won’t my hands stop sweating? It’s amazing how two hours of drinks and appetizers can be so intimidating.

So, is it really worth it? Yes. According to HubSpot’s survey about networking statistics:

We think networking is worth the work at Quinlan, too. We make it a priority to go to local and national conferences, Ad Club of Buffalo, PRSA and Social Media Club of Buffalo functions and large networking events throughout Western New York.

We know how to nurse a free drink for an hour and a half. We also have some serious networking advice:

1. Know what you bring to the table.

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One of the key elements to networking at any event is communicating what makes you worth knowing. Are you an expert in your field? Are you well-versed on specific industry issues? Do you have insights or ideas that you want to bounce off some new people? Now is the time.

Remember: you want to be interesting but also be interested in hearing what others have to say. Maybe there’s an upcoming event that one of your new networking buddies mentions that could bring you some new clients, or maybe there’s a potential collaboration out there for you — you won’t ever find out if you’re nervously running your big yap all night. You always want to be sure you make a great first impression.

Every year, the employees at Quinlan have an option to attend a conference that relates to their role at our agency. Each conference opens more doors to new networking opportunities — a situation that may seem nerve-wracking when traveling solo.

Kristin Sullivan, our Inbound Marketing Strategist, took a trip to Denver, Colorado last spring to attend the Authority Rainmaker conference. The event featured professional speakers from the content marketing industry and hosted marketers who came to gain new experiences and develop relationships.

“I learned so much from the 9-5 sessions,” Kristin explains. “But it wasn’t just about tips and lectures from a few social media pros. It was about quality conversation I had with the speakers, time spent chatting with other attendees in my industry and the new relationships I took home with me. Sessions are extremely worthwhile, but I don’t think you can put a price on making valuable connections.”

2. Be a great listener.

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Pictured above: Ben Kirst, Quinlans Director of Content Marketing, and his team enjoy some networking with Dr. Deborah Silverman and Beth Silverman at the annual PRSA Buffalo Niagara dinner on November, 2015.

Part of attending networking events and meeting new people is not only talking about yourself and what you do – but actually listening to other people. But what makes a good listener? It’s all about maintaining eye contact, engaging in conversation and absorbing new information.

It’s also important that you lessen any distractions. In today’s world, it’s difficult to ignore that “ding” when you get a text message or notification, even if you are in the middle of a conversation with someone new. If you insist on whipping out your smartphone during a networking event, use it wisely. Show off your work, or perhaps take a moment to connect with the people you meet on social media to secure future communication. If you’re playing on your phone in order to look busy because you’re too shy to talk, put the phone away and dive back in.

At the recent PRSA Buffalo Niagara annual meeting dinner held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, we met various members of PRSA who worked in the marketing industry. With our agency involved in public relations, marketing and advertising – especially in Buffalo – we were eager to discover new people and new experiences throughout our industry.

3. Overcome your fear of saying “hello.”

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Many professionals dread the word “networking” because it forces them to talk to complete strangers. The first step is to overcome the fear of saying “hello” and dismissing the anxiety of introducing yourself.

What if that first impression didn’t have to be so awkward? Start the discussion about your profession and your specific skills. Take mental notes of what is happening at the event, who is speaking and what interests you. Create a list of talking points. The list you create just by exploring your surroundings can be very valuable and a great introduction to a new conversation.

Remember: this is not speed dating. Networking is about engaging and taking the opportunity to learn and expand your knowledge. It doesn’t help to go from person to person quickly trying to remember first names and job openings. Try to start a discussion using open-ended questions, find common interests and strike up conversations. Soon enough, it’ll be second nature. You’ll actually enjoy it. Plus, the knowledge you glean from others can be used to help your future career, or dive deeper into what inspires you.

4. Check back in.

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Okay, we’ve preached the power of networking to you, but maybe you’re still wondering: is this really going to be worth it?

You can easily build a large network of 1,000 followers on LinkedIn simply by spraying out invites to anyone who looks like a potential friend, mentor or employer, but what does a number really matter? How many of your LinkedIn pals have you actually met in person, and how often do you interact?

When you legitimately meet someone that sparks your interest professionally, add that person to your LinkedIn account — but be sure to check back in. Friendships and long-term connections are fueled from consistent communication.

PRO TIP: You won’t get much out of networking if you’re the person standing in the corner waiting for someone to talk to you. Be approachable and stay positive mindset, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

Here’s a great way to find someone to talk to if you’re shy: find the other shy person in the room. Odds are very good that someone else is awkwardly standing alone, looking around nervously, praying for a chance to make a connection. You’ve just found your next networking buddy. Strike up a conversation. Odds are very good that either a.) others will join your conversation, or b.) you’ll get a much-needed confidence boost to move on to the next person when the opportunity arises. Seriously, this strategy works.

When a conversation is over, be sure to exchange business cards (yes, these are still beneficial at all times!). DO NOT ASK FOR OR OFFER THE CARD FIRST. This is tacky and makes it looks like you’re either there to blanket the room with cards or that your expectation of the relationship with this person is going to be as deep as the little paper rectangle you’re holding in your hand. No one gets a prize at the end of the day for the most cards (unless you belong to a networking organization for salespeople, but that’s a whole other story). Shoot them an email asking if they would like to meet one-on-one. Personal relationships do matter, so make sure you put in some effort.

“If you exchanged business cards with someone and actually want to stay in touch, be sure to follow up with an email within the next day or two,” Grace Gerass, Quinlan’s digital content coordinator, says. “Comment on something they said that stuck with you, ask them a question or even suggest you two meet up for coffee. If you don’t, your contact information will just get lost in the shuffle.”

Are you a networking expert?

What do you do to make the best of any networking experience? We would love to hear!

Interested in connecting and networking with some advertising geeks in Buffalo? Be on the lookout for us at any Advertising Club of Buffalo, PRSA Buffalo/Niagara Chapter or Social Media Club of Buffalo events. We hope to see you around (don’t forget your business cards)!

Be sure to flaunt your social networking skills: tweet us @QuinlanCompany and find us on Instagram and Facebook.

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