04 Dec 3 easy-to-apply rules of networking for the socially awkward
Let’s face it; networking can be boring sometimes. And, if you’re one of those people that don’t go out very much, networking can be awful.
So why don’t we completely cancel this concept of networking and save that particular agony for more serious issues like dating? Well, unfortunately, networking is still one of the surest ways of connecting with people that can open new business or career doors for you. It’s also a way to stay in touch with your community.
In this article, I want to share with you three simple, easy-to-apply tricks for your next networking event.
As a caveat, I wrote this article for socially awkward millennials. I wrote it for the introverts who would rather be on their phone than talk to a random stranger in the name of networking. If you’re one of those social butterflies, scan through SFAN Blog for another content. You probably practice everything in this article by default 😁
The rest of us, here’s how networking works.
First, dress the part of the event
Regardless of what anyone will tell you about dressing, I have found that looking good can be a great way to boost your self-confidence. Today, many people in the tech community think that dressing well is unnecessary cosmetics that one needs to ignore. The logic is simple: Many people are more concerned about their looks than their results. Nevertheless, I am yet to see a high achiever that is not careful about his/her public image and brand.
Yet, there’s a fine line between trying to impress “people you don’t like” with clothes you can’t afford and dressing for success. The latter is what I advocate for here. It doesn’t mean breaking the bank. It means looking good and smelling good – no matter what that means for your budget.
Moreover, if you’re attending an event where you could meet a prospective employer or business partner, would you rather dress like help?
With that backdrop, take note of the following fashion tips for your next networking event:
i) Find out if there’s a dress code.
ii) Research the venue to know what type of fabric to wear.
ii) Find out what the theme colors are. You want to wear something that will complement the background for your pictures (i.e. if you’re the selfie type. Take a cue from Anie Akpe on how to post your event pictures).
I had a terrible experience at one networking event three years ago. I thought it was an indoor event, so I wore a heavy cardigan. Unfortunately, it was an outdoor event, and the weather was warm. I looked so odd that I had difficulty making conversation with anybody that evening.
Here’s one more thing to consider. Whether you are a business owner or career professional, you are the business and the business is the product. How you look says a lot about you.
Second, don’t be boring, and have a beautiful story about yourself on hand
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone, and all s/he did was talk about herself or himself? You leave that discussion with a mental note to forget her or him as quickly as possible.
So, do yourself a favor: lose the narcissism. Give your ears a chance, your mouth will take care of itself. People generally like people who are interested in them. You will make a better connection if you give the other person a chance to talk about themselves. Ask questions, even if you don’t care about the answers that much, but don’t give off that vibe that you don’t care about their story.
Equally important, when you get the opportunity to talk about yourself, don’t talk about your school, work, or any of that monotonous stuff. Have a story that connects all the dots. Stories are powerful. That’s why one of the first two-syllable words we all learned as babies is “story.” It’s the oldest form of teaching.
Therefore, don’t say, “I am just a student,” when asked what you do. Tell them why you chose the course or school and what you plan to do after graduation. Tell them how you are dealing with the challenges involved in actualizing your goal.
Is there a template for this thing? Emphatically, yes! Here’s what has worked for me:
i) If you went alone, step aside and observe the people in the room.
ii) From your vantage point, find someone or a group that is easy to talk to. Trust me; you’d know when you see someone easy to talk to. If they’re in a group, don’t go in and break their discussion as that would be a nosedive.
iii) When introducing yourself, give a gentle, firm (not crush-it) handshake and make eye contact (a smile will also go a long way in making a connection). Ensure your hand meets theirs on the webbing. There are exceptions to this – depending on your culture and so on. More on handshake here.
iv) Ask the right questions and notice the body language. When you feel the conversation is going dull or they’re “shoulder surfing” to others, end the discussion and exchange contacts if they asked you for contact.
Finally, don’t just take the cards, stay in touch afterward
If you went for a networking event and collected someone’s contact, try your best to make contact afterward. The truth is, people will appreciate that you remembered to reach out to them after the meeting. When I go for speaking engagements or training programs, I often get several people asking for my card. However, very few people eventually get in touch with me after the meeting, or ever.
I think that you should only take someone’s contact if you plan to connect with them afterward.
As a caveat, do not be a bug. If you regularly text, call or email someone you just met, they’d easily block you. Don’t be a distraction; people have so many things going on these days.
If you’re a student, use this email template for your first follow up after the networking session:
Hello (insert name),
My name is (insert your name here), and we met at (insert event name here). It was a great pleasure meeting you and learning about your work. As I hinted in our brief discussion, my goal is to (insert career goal here) after my degree. I will be grateful if you could keep me informed of any opportunity that could help me to prepare for this career.
Thank you for your anticipated support!
Use this template if you are sending a proposal:
Dear (insert name),
I trust this finds you well and in high spirits. It was a pleasure to meet you at the (insert event name). As discussed in our brief conversation, please find the sponsorship proposal for our upcoming (insert the name of the project) attached for your consideration.
I look forward to discussing it further at your convenience.
Use this template for general touching base email after the networking event:
Hello (insert name),
I trust you’re well. It was nice to see (if you know this person) or meet (if you met for the first time) you at (insert event name) the other day.
Please, take a look at my (insert) for further details on what we’re working on (ignore if not applicable). Let’s stay in touch!
You can also follow them on Twitter or send a friend request on LinkedIn.
You don’t want to be the person who shows up only where there’s a need, but you want to be the one they’d remember when they have an insider secret. Remember to always talk about what you’re working on or what you need. You might never know where the help would come from.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve met someone at a networking event that became vital to my career journey. A lot of the things we do today are made possible through carefully cultivated relationships that started with networking events. So the truth is, networking is very vital.
But to make the best of each networking session, you have to have a strategy. With the tips shared in this article, you will always go home from every networking meeting fulfilled. All the best!
Do you have other tips you want to add? Drop them in the comments. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive exclusive insights that can 10X your growth!
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the Founder & President of SFAN (Stars From All Nations). When he’s not building SFAN and helping entrepreneurs and rising professionals create fulfilling careers, he’s telling African innovation stories or advocating for people-centered policy. Tom-Chris is a former consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana, and the author of the forthcoming book: Breaking the Limits. He is a thought leader on youth development, social entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and the future of work.