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Networking, the term is thrown around daily like loose change. To me, Networking sounds so...Adult. According to social norms I am technically an adult, but I don’t feel like I do very adult things, Networking included. This past weekend I realized networking is not as hard as one might think. My boyfriend and I were invited to a barbecue by a couple that lives in our neighborhood and are just starting to get to know. We decided to go even though we knew we wouldn’t really know anyone other than the hosts. When we got there we recognized a few people but for the most part there were a lot of new faces. By the end of the night we ended up talking to almost everyone. We are by no means social butterflies and we were both surprised by how easy it was to make connections with so many different types of people. That’s really all networking is.
I must admit, I like to do a bit of prep work before I go to social events. If I can, I try to find out who will be there so I know what kind of crowd I’ll be interacting with and can prepare accordingly. I had a feeling that there would be a mix of people so I decided to go with a tried and true method and skimmed Google News headlines. I like to have a ‘World News’ event, ‘Local News’ (if there’s something interesting), and an ‘Entertainment’ bit in my back pocket. I like to reserve my ‘news articles’ for times when the conversation runs dry or when I'm talking with a group of people.
Once we arrived, the hosts introduced us to the other couple that was there. As soon as more guests trickled in we were on our own. Making the first move can be intimidating, but if you don’t, you may be waiting forever for someone to approach you. Quite honestly, everyone is thinking the same thing you are; don’t be afraid to approach people you don’t know and introduce yourself. I found the easiest way to introduce myself without being too aggressive was to start with something simple like: “Isn’t this a beautiful night? I’m Ashley, I don’t think we’ve met yet”.
Once you’ve introduced yourself the hard part is over. Now comes the fun part. The easiest ways to get the conversation going at any type of event is to ask “How do you know the host?” If you’re at more of a networking event ask “How are you involved in…” People feel most comfortable talking about things they know. Basic questions allow conversations to build organically even if you get short winded answers. For example, if they answer “Oh, I just know them from living in the neighborhood” you can ask: How long have you lived in the neighborhood? What brought you to this area? Eventually you will land on something with a little more meat. You may not end up being best friends after this, but the next time you run into this person or reach out to them you’ll already have something to talk about.
One of the questions that came up the most during the night was “what do you do?” which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that after I explained what I did for work quite a few people asked “But what do you do outside of work?” This caught me off guard. Even though I do things other than work, I struggled to remember what they were the first time I was asked this. Even at a work-based networking event it’s important to remember that you are more than just your job. The more real you make yourself, the more people actually want to keep talking to you.
By the end of the night my boyfriend and I had talked to everyone at some point in the night. We ended up talking to one couple that lives just outside of our neighborhood and frequents the same local restaurant that we do. We exchanged numbers and Instagram accounts because neither one of us brought business cards to a barbeque. Fast forward to the next week, we ran into each at our local restaurant and now have plans to go to a baseball game. The takeaway from this? Bring a business card and don’t be afraid to exchange contact information. If you’re not comfortable sharing your cell phone or email address sharing your instagram, facebook or LinkedIn is a great alternative that allows you to still connect.
Networking is a lot easier and less scary when you treat it like you’re going to do something fun. If you let things happen organically and stay true to yourself you’ll end up making more connections. If you are going to a more formal event, pick out and try on your outfit before you go. The more comfortable you are, the more naturally things will happen. Who knows, you just might transform into a social butterfly.