Networking events are one of the most effective ways to meet more people in your industry and expand your professional horizons. As a mentor for young professionals that are just beginning their careers, however, Monty Cerf realizes that networking skills, through events or other contacts, are often not as emphasized as much as they should be.
Throughout the pandemic many industries needed to rely on virtual networking events to continue to push a sense of connectedness- and some of these events were extremely successful. Now that in-person networking events can start up once again, professionals are looking to brush up on their skills and make important connections with others.
Monty Cerf knows that returning to in-person networking events can be daunting, especially as many of us have just gotten our footing with the online variety. He maintains that- despite this- young professionals can have successful outings if they focus properly and accept these events as opportunities for disciplined engagement.
Here, Monty explores a few of the most important strategies for attending in-person networking events for the first time this year.
Know your Goals
When attending a networking event, you never want to show up without specific goals to keep you centered. It is important to remember that goals for a networking event do not need to be all encompassing to be effective. Even the simple goal of speaking to and connecting with a specific number of people may be all that you need.
For example, William Montgomery Cerf recognizes that one completely legitimate common goal is to talk to a specific number of people at the event. A simple goal such as this one puts just enough pressure to talk but gives an attendee the freedom to pick and choose people that seem most receptive to conversation. Other goals might be to speak to specific industry participants or to learn about a particular company or business.
Goals for networking events are great because they keep us on task while also holding us responsible for doing our best. Maybe your goal is to speak to a few leaders in your industry. Maybe you want to speak to someone that can explain a new industry or a different company. Whatever your goals are, try to use them as inspiration to have fruitful conversations with others.
Be Prepared to Introduce Yourself
Many professionals acknowledged that it was quite easy to hold up the wall at virtual events. Not being able to see everyone all but ensured that people would miss out on at least a few opportunities to introduce themselves.
At in-person events, you can expect that you will be introducing yourself a lot! Therefore, it is important to keep in mind how you plan on selling yourself and explaining the roles that you currently perform. A great introduction gives people just enough information to have a good idea of who you are. The worst can be long, wordy, or leave other attendees with an unclear understanding of your work.
Introducing oneself can be one of the most daunting parts of the event, but it is crucial to master the art of the introduction to have fruitful conversations at any networking event. The more you practice and get acclimated to doing it, the better your engagement level at in-person networking events will be. Consider practicing an “elevator pitch.” In the time it takes to ride an elevator, introduce yourself, who you are, what your interests are and what you are trying to learn from others.
Listen and Ask Questions
It can be easy to get caught up in yourself and your own agendas at a networking event- but networking events are full of interesting people that you will want to get to know. Naturally, this means that listening and asking good questions are great skills to have when attending.
People do naturally want to talk about themselves and their duties. After all, it is what they know. Respect the push and pull of conversation and always do your best to ensure that everyone that you speak to has the opportunity to say their piece as well. Being genuinely interested in what others have to say can get you far in networking.
Asking thoughtful questions shows other attendees that you care about what they have to say
William Montgomery Cerf recognizes that one of the best ways to stand out in a full networking event is by making the effort to ask great questions. People will be answering basic questions about their careers all day, and questions that do not require any thought to answer may not be the road to a memorable conversation. As appropriate, to some research, or at least some thinking in advance of these events. Be as prepared as you reasonably can be.
For those who find that they have a habit of dominating conversations, don’t! A tidbit that helps Monty Cerf is remembering that nothing he says at an event will be new to him- it is what others add to conversations that will really give value to networking interactions.
Do Not Forget to Follow Up
Sometimes people at networking events forget to follow up. They sell themselves well, have great conversations with others, actively listen, but they later find that they do not actually keep in touch with attendees they’ve met. Ask them if it is all right if you may follow up at a later time. Assume that if you don’t follow up, neither will they. Take the initiative, get people’s contact information, and follow up promptly with a considered follow up agenda
One of the most difficult things to emphasize about networking events is the importance of following up. You may have gotten some numbers, new LinkedIn friends, and some emails throughout the night. Use them!
If you have had a particularly great conversation with another attendee, it can help to keep correspondence going with a thoughtful message. A brief message that contains just enough to jog one’s memory is a great start.
Your name, a short reference to what was discussed, and an expressed interest in speaking more when the opportunity presents itself is a common template for follow up messages post networking events.
Just Do Your Best
Putting too much pressure on yourself to be the best networker in the world can be much more stressful than it is productive. We all can make mistakes, have bad first impressions, or have nights where nervousness or anxiety gets in the way of starting conversations with people we want to speak with.
For this reason, Monty Cerf speaks to how productive it can be to just focus on doing your best rather than the best. We can spot people that are being disingenuous from a mile away, and we get much more out of networking when we are comfortable.
Monty Cerf explains to young professionals that one of the best ways to stand out in an environment is to be thoughtful. Do your best to remain mindful of the interactions that you have with others, but do not stress yourself so much that it gets in the way of having a good time.