I tend to dread networking events. I know that as a PR girl I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true. It’s awkward. Everyone there has an agenda. And there’s always those people who are constantly in search of a better person to talk to. (Those people are the worst.)
But lately I’ve found ways to enjoy networking. So much so that I attended two events in the past week. Here are my secrets for embracing networking events:
- Find your people
I’ve found that general professional mixers are harder to make connections in than events specific to niche groups. I recently joined the PRSA Charlotte chapter and those luncheons are fun because we all have something in common: we work in PR. There’s also a nice mix of ages so I’m able to mingle with other new professionals in the same boat. However, “your people” doesn’t have to be specific to your work. I also attended a monthly networking event called #instabeerupclt which is more of a mixer of young, hip, movers & shakers in the Charlotte area. I met brewers and bankers, yet we all seemed to be like-minded. It was also more casual (they’re always held at local breweries) so that takes the pressure off.
- Bring a friend
It really makes so much of a difference if you can bring a friend or co-worker to a networking event. However, this isn’t always an option. The good thing is that once you find “your people” and specific, recurring networking events that appeal to you, you start to make connections. Then, even if you show up alone, there’s already people there you know. Think of it as expanding your social circle. It may be awkward at first, but the more you go, the easier it gets.
- Get involved with the group
Another way to make fast connections is to raise your hand and volunteer! Ask the group if there’s any way you can help, from planning networking events, to running the check-in table, to helping with promotion on social media. This way, you already know a few friendly faces when you show up for the first event. It also gives you the chance to build deeper relationships with members.
- Connect on social media
I love networking events that encourage people to write their Twitter and/or Instagram handles on their name tags. The old saying goes “eyes are the window to the soul” but I say your Instagram account is the window to your soul. Diving in on social media helps everyone to get a better idea of who we all really are, instead of just looking at a name and title. It also helps you to stay in touch with connections in between events.
- Prep with conversation starters
Going off of the idea that we’re all more than what we do, I recently stumbled on this great list of questions to ask people instead of “what do you do?” My favorites are: What are you most excited about right now? What projects are you working on? and What’s your favorite emoji? (I don’t know if I could pick!) It’s also good to be up on current events – both national and local. My go-to email newsletters are theSkimm for global/national and Charlotte Agenda/CharlotteFive for local news. Last week was Charlotte Restaurant Week, so my table at the PRSA luncheon ended up chatting about great restaurants we’ve been meaning to try.
What are your best networking tips? Any other local groups I should check out?