On the list of “Things People Hate to Do,” networking probably falls just below “get a root canal.” After all, nothing conjures up fear of rejection like an entire room full of people you don’t know. At the same time, though, you know that you have to master networking to get started (and keep progressing) in the copywriting industry. So here are a few easy tactics to help make networking less painful…
Today’s question comes from Cara G., who asks, “I really, really hate networking. Is there any way I can avoid it? Or at least make it suck less?”
Believe me: I hear you. Nothing whips up my own anxiety like facing a room full of people I don’t know. Though, if you’ve ever met me in this scenario, you might not know it—for the most part, I look pretty comfortable working the room. Why? I’ve got a plan! And this handy little system can work just as well for you as it does for me.
I’m not saying these eight tactics are going to make you fall head over heels in love with networking, but they’re certainly going to make the whole process a whole lot less painful.
1. Fake it ’til you make it.
Now, I’m not talking about credentials or credits here; I’m talking about confidence. The vast majority of us will fall somewhere on the spectrum between feeling ill at ease at the least and feeling like the biggest loser in the known universe. Obviously, projecting this image of yourself isn’t going to make you popular. Instead, you’ve just got to act like you’re absolutely confident and comfortable in the setting.
Don’t confuse arrogance and confidence, though. No one wants to talk with a jackass. Instead of trying to come off as more important or connected than you are, just make your mindset, “I’m perfectly relaxed and happy to be here. Some people will want to talk to me, some people won’t and I’m fine with both.” If you have to, pretend you have someone else’s calm and receptive personality for a little while. Eventually, you won’t have to pretend.
2. Don’t make it about “networking.”
Part of the reason that quote-unquote networking puts such a bad taste in people’s mouths is that it evokes the idea of trying to get things you want out of strangers. This is not, I repeat not the goal. The whole purpose is simply just to meet new people.
Yes, eventually, your new connections might lead to a job opportunity or a serendipitous occurrence, but don’t go into networking looking to solely to benefit your career. Your only goal should be to meet new people—and new people of every level. Don’t discount someone who doesn’t seem “important” or “useful”; you can’t know what roles people will play in your life ahead of time.
3. Have a simple opening line.
According the great knowledge of the internet, it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” (And this sounds like something he’d say, so we’ll go with it.)
Don’t go into your networking event cold. That is, don’t go in with no idea at all as to what you’re going to say. You’ll never end up talking to anyone if you leave it to that moment to think of something to start a conversation.
Luckily, starting a conversation doesn’t have to be difficult. Instead of starting with some pitch about who you are and how your copywriting is about to change the world, simply walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Nicki. I don’t think we’ve met yet.” (Credit for this gem goes to marketing guru Laura Roeder.) It’s easy to remember, it’s non-intimidating and it makes you sound relaxed and confident.
4. Have a couple of follow-up options.
See Ben’s quote above again. If you’ve got nothing prepared after they introduce themselves, your conversation is sunk.
Keep a couple of follow-up questions in your back pocket to help facilitate the conversation. And again, it’s really just a conversation—starting out with “I’m new to copywriting. What career tips can you offer me?” is going to turn a lot of people off very quickly. This might come up naturally in the conversation later, but don’t force people to immediately benefit you.
Assuming that someone gives you their name after you give them yours, you can follow up with questions like, “What kind of work do you do?” “Where do you work?” “Do you like it there?” “Have you been to this event before?” “How did you hear about this event?” (Not in quick succession, obviously.) I know: These sound like absurdly simple questions. But that’s the point! All you’re trying to do is get to know someone. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
5. Read your cues.
The majority of people at networking events are just like you (and me): Not really comfortable and hoping someone talks to them. And what that means for you is that most people will be glad when you come up to them and start a conversation.
That said, though, some people just won’t feel like talking to you. Don’t take it personally; it’s just not a connection that’s meant to happen. But once you get the vibe that they’re not interested in talking—their eyes are searching the room, their body is turned a bit away, they’re giving you one-word answers—excuse yourself and move on. Tell them it was nice to meet them and then head over to freshen your drink.
6. Split and merge, split and merge.
There’s a natural ebb and flow to meeting new people at a networking event; you meet, you converse for a bit and then you move on to meet other people. Don’t fight it (or be hurt by it)—just go with it.
You might end up meeting a kindred spirit that you want to spend the entire event talking to (and, importantly, who also wants to spend it talking to you.) If that’s the case, fine; it’s meant to be.
If not, though, think of the evening as a series of small groups joining to chat and then splitting to reform into other small groups. (If I’d paid better attention to science in high school, I think I’d have a great analogy here. I’ve got nothing.) When you see a natural opportunity to join up and chat with people—there’s a lull in a group’s conversation, someone is standing by themselves, you already know someone in the group, etc.—hit them with your opening line. And when the conversation naturally starts to end, move on.
7. Make introductions.
After going to several networking events (which you’re going to do, of course) you’ll start to notice this wonderful occurrence. You’ll know people. This, in and of itself, will start to make networking events so much easier and more fun.
But once you start to know people, you now have a new responsibility. It’s up to you to start facilitating introductions between people you know and people you’ve just met.
You don’t have to introduce everyone you meet to everyone you know. (Eventually, you’ll get to know so many people that this won’t be possible, anyway.) But making new introductions to your contacts just means that you are widening your circle. Plus, it’s good karma. When you’re new to the networking scene, someone will introduce you to someone else and you’ll be deeply grateful. Share the love.
8. Bring your business cards.
Sure, you’re just going to meet new people. But if these new people should want to contact you in the future, you have to give them a way to do it it! Business cards are non-negotiable.
If you’re just starting out, you don’t need super fancy business cards. You can go to a site like Moo and upload a stock image (or not) for one side and put your name, what you do (probably “Copywriter”), your email address, your phone number and your online portfolio site URL. Super simple.
But you need to have these to give to people. Number one, they may want to get in touch in the future and, number two, they may pass your business cards along. You never know where they’ll end up—so make sure you have them to pass out in the first place.
Your turn! Did I miss any great networking tips or techniques? Let us know in the comments below!