When I was in college for Psychology, every professor I spoke to would preach about why networking is so important. Despite my outgoing personality, the idea of putting myself out there at an event was pretty paralyzing. Even endless lectures on how to network with other professionals couldn’t prepare me for the fear of walking up to a stranger and holding a conversation.
Flash forward to present day. I switched careers (thank you baby Jesus) and thought I’d found the problem – I was networking with the wrong crowd, talking about the wrong things! Well, that’s partially true. It is much easier to speak to strangers when the topic of conversation is something you’re passionate about. With that, it’s still taken me a while to learn exactly how to network with other professionals without feeling like my stomach is going to fall out of my butt. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to make the oh-so-important idea of networking a little less terrifying.
Take a co-worker, but don’t talk to them.
It sounds counterintuitive: why would you bring a co-worker, but not speak to them? Networking with other professionals requires you to do one thing: network with other professionals! Even if you plant yourself in a central location, keeping in conversation with your co-worker all night might discourage others from approaching you. If you’re like me, you’ll also feel a false sense of accomplishment – “Hey, look at me…networking at this super cool event!” when in reality, you’re simply talking to someone you see every day. Get out there and introduce yourself to other people and do it separately! Not only will you be forced to speak to different professionals (lest standing around alone), you’ll make twice as many connections! And there’s nothing to say you can’t meet up once or twice throughout the night to see how things are going!
Be armed with a few conversation starters.
I’m not saying you can’t discuss it, but let’s be honest, talking about the weather is a pretty tired way of getting a conversation going. Remember, these professionals are in the same business as you! Chances are, you’ve had very similar experiences and may even be similar people. It takes a very unique individual to be able to work with couples day in and day out. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and if you can gain some insight and create a relationship in the mean time, why not try it? With this in mind, have a few conversation starters ready for after you’ve done the typical networking introductions. Here are a few I love –
- What do you love most about what you do?
- How do you manage your wedding schedule?
- Have you worked with this caterer or venue before? (This usually opens the door to conversations about weddings they’ve had with said vendors)
- What’s the most difficult couple/enjoyable couple you’ve ever worked with and why?
- What are you most proud of in your work?
Have your exit strategy planned.
I’m not suggesting you start every conversation with the intent of leaving it, especially during a networking event, but it bodes you well to be prepared. When you meet someone new, there’s always the chance that you won’t hit it off. It’s not important for you to like or become best friends with every person you meet! Simply get your name out there and introduce yourself!
To avoid any awkward goodbyes, always think a few steps ahead. Before walking up to a group, seek out the next individuals you’d like to speak with. Have a back up ready in case they move on to another activity or area, too! Keep an eye on the passed apps and use your hunger or thirst as a reason to excuse yourself. Always be polite when exiting a conversation and be sure to let the group know you’re moving on. Don’t be the odd ball who jumps into a conversation and then silently makes her way out “unnoticed”.
Take Your Business Cards!
This may seem obvious, but we’ve all been there – you get to a networking event, only to realize you left your business cards in your purse when you switched to your evening clutch. If it’s not possible to go get them, don’t stress. Be sure to gather as many business cards as you can and reach out post-event. If you do have your business cards, don’t be ashamed to hand them out! That’s what they’re there for. Other professionals will likely feel grateful for the opportunity to exchange information. The entire point of a networking event is to get your name out there and meet other professionals in the industry. No one can be expected to memorize everyone’s company name and contact information!
Remember, everyone is in your shoes.
With my personality, most people find it very difficult to believe that I am actually quite introverted. I love my alone time and, like I said, the idea of networking sometimes makes me want to hurl. If there is one thing to remember while you’re networking, it’s that I’m not alone in this feeling. While you may run into or follow other professionals on social media who seem so confident, poised, and extroverted, there is always the chance that they, too, really hate talking to strangers and are actually quite uncomfortable. It’s the age old saying of picturing everyone in their underwear. If you can imagine that everyone in the room is as uncomfortable as you are (and some very well may be), it makes it a little easier to approach people and start up a conversation!
Networking with other professionals may never get easier for you, but trust me, it’s crucial in this industry. Word of mouth is powerful and having people know your name and your business could make or break you. So put on your big girl panties and saddle up – it’s time to put yourself out there! You can do this!