Stand out and network like a pro

Last week, I attended an event at Burns & Levinson, a Boston-based law firm, where Sandy Lish, one of Castle’s co-founders and principals, spoke about business development and networking. For many people, networking is no easy feat and can be quite nerve-wracking. So to help those, such as myself, who are new to the concept of networking, here are a few of Sandy’s tips on how to network like a pro.

  1. Get a networking buddy

While it may not be easy to walk up to a stranger at an event, shake their hand and introduce yourself, having a buddy to work the room with can take some of the edge off of approaching and meeting new people. Having someone you are comfortable with at your side as you chat with new people can really help your nerves and your confidence while networking.

  1. “You’re not there to blend in; you are there to stand out.”

Many people think that a black, blue or dark grey suit is the best thing you can wear to a business event, but the truth is you want to stand out instead of blending in. Balance your attire with the professional image you want to impart, and remember that some professions allow for a little more flexibility and creativity.

  1. Look to recent events/news for conversation topics

After an introduction to a new contact, you may find yourself in a ‘now what?’ situation. Before heading to a networking event, make sure that you have a handle on current events, particularly those relevant to the organizations you may be meeting.  And in Boston, you can always fall back on our sports teams as conversation starters.

  1. Do your research

If someone you want to meet will be at the event (a reporter or the CEO of a company that interests you), do your research on the person beforehand. What have they been doing for their company recently or what have they blogged about? These are topics that you can bring up in conversation that show you ‘know your stuff.’

  1. Practice your introduction

Make sure you know exactly how you want to present yourself to the new people you meet and know how to explain what you do so that anyone would be able to understand it.  It sounds simple, but interestingly, many people are unprepared to succinctly discuss themselves and their businesses.

  1. Set a goal

Before you go to an event, set a goal. It could be the number of business cards you want to pass out or receive, how many people you want to introduce yourself to, or just introducing yourself to a specific person. Don’t leave the event until you’ve reached your goal, but do feel comfortable leaving once you have achieved it.

  1. Make a connection for someone else

Networking is not all about benefiting from the connections you make yourself; it is also about making connections for other people you know. If you are chatting with someone who you think might benefit from meeting or speaking with a contact of yours, offer to make the introduction for them.

  1. Follow up

In the 24 hours following the event, email the new connections  with whom you would like to form a relationship. Ask them to connect on LinkedIn or ask for a face-to-face meeting over coffee, breakfast or lunch.

Sandy’s tips are very helpful for networking newbies or even a reminder for people that have been at it for years. Networking can be awkward at first but the more you force yourself out of your comfort zone and the more often you attend events, the easier and more natural it will become.