Do you get nervous talking in front of large crowds? Introducing yourself to strangers? Or promoting your strengths to others? If so, you are not alone.
Networking makes many young professionals uneasy and anxious. I know you have heard this many times before, but the key to any successful plan is preparation, preparation, preparation. Whether it’s networking, dieting or just getting through the week, nothing eases stress more than being prepared. You wouldn’t walk into an interview without being armed with the company’s background information and questions, so why would you show up to a networking event without the same. Here are several simple steps you can take to make networking easier and more successful.
As we all know, networking is all about making personal connections and creating relationships. How do you get to know someone? You ask questions, but not just any questions. Strategic inquiries will provide you with pertinent information about a individual’s passions and career goals. Ask open-ended questions that allow individuals to share freely. “What do you do?” and “What do you love most about your job?” People like sharing things about themselves and what motivates them. You just have to get them talking about it. Being prepared with as much background information on event attendees as possible will allow you to ask deeper questions about things you already know. For example, “I’ve seen the impressive work you did on your last campaign, can you tell me more about how you came up with it?”
Asking questions is a good way to get people talking, but the information they share is only good if you are actively listening. Don’t just listen to what people are saying. Listen and learn from their responses. Networking involves give and take. They share information with you, and you provide feedback or more inquiries. The goal for networking is for people to help each other, which could not be more useful than in an industry where people helping people is the philosophy. If you can provide a solution to someone’s difficult situation, they will not only be more likely to call on you later for more insights but also be willing to advise you, if ever needed.
Just like personal friendships and relationships, you cannot go into networking expecting something only for you. Networking works both ways. Use your first encounter to get to know someone and even offer a few compliments. Avoid asking for favors or self-promoting tasks when you meet someone for the first time. Being polite and genuine is a sure-fire way to make an impression and ensure people will remember you. Once a basic connection is made, you can follow up with an e-mail explaining how delighted you were to meet them and ask if they would have some time available to discuss topics further over coffee.
The word preparation seems so formal, but it’s really nothing to be afraid of. All you have to do is a little homework. The most difficult social situations melt away when you take a little extra time to prep, plan and process. Professional development starts way before you ever give your first handshake. It starts when you decide to start learning about the situations, places and people that make your workplace and your industry run.
The Cooperative Trust is a grassroots organization composed of several hundred young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships online collaboration and development projects. Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.