No matter how many pep talks I give myself in the car before I walk in, live networking events make me self conscious. I tell myself, “Just because you’re going to this thing alone, doesn’t mean that everyone in the room thinks that you have no friends. It’s completely obvious to everyone that you are very popular, but you just happen to be alone at this moment.” I say this in my head, but there’s something about stepping into a room with well-dressed people meeting and mingling which elicits that painful preteen fear of sitting alone at lunch.
Networking events can make you feel like the new kid walking into a high school cafeteria, where everyone has their place but you. Thanks to the Internet, networking just got a whole lot easier.
Do your stalking homework.
Social networking tools like LinkedIn , Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to find and connect with people in your industry. When you look up an industry influencer or a peer on a social network, you can see how many connections you have in common with that person. Facebook has a similar trick for its Event pages. If you click on a networking event (or any event, for that matter), you can see if any of the other attendees are friends of yours. Knowing that you’ll have a few friendly faces in the crowd can make the event much less intimidating.
By making connections and participating in online conversations relevant to your industry, you can elevate your thought leadership and develop your credibility. You can also use your online research to give you talking points to use when you attend live events or meet someone in person.
Make your message count.
While building an online network of peers and industry influencers is a great start, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook when it comes to developing relationships with the people behind the screens. Choose a few people that you really want to get to know, and make an effort to get to engage with those people beyond just the occasional comment online. Like any relationship, it’s important to make your communications with business connections intentional and personal. Try to learn about their personal interests, as well as their business, and find ways to add value to their lives.
Do they love farmers markets? Email them a link to an event happening at their local farmers market, or if you live in the same area, maybe suggest getting coffee at the farmers market sometime. Even if your main form of communication is digital, such as a direct message or an email, keeping in touch consistently can separate you from the pack of followers.
Don’t neglect your own backyard.
Just because you can connect with people all around the world, don’t ignore what’s happening in your own community. You might be surprised to find that even if you live in a smaller community, there are plenty of people in your industry that you haven’t met yet. Make an effort to get out there and participate in community events. Oftentimes you can meet other like-minded people, and you’re spared the forced conversation of a networking event.
Have any great stories about an online connection that turned into a true networking relationship? Tell us about your challenges and success stories in the comments!