When you become the ultimate networker, it doesn’t just improve your career — it improves your personal life too. The best networkers don’t just have amazing businesses and careers, they have amazing friendships and are always at the front of the line for new opportunities.
I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide to improving your networking skills. We recommend you print this out and commit to doing one of the challenges per day. I have put all 18 of our tips into a week-long format in the networking guide below:
Now let’s learn how to network like a pro!
Imagine this: You’ve just walked into a crowded room full of strangers. Your mission is to meet new people, make friends and build a network.
Go! Start networking!
This used to be my mission (and nightmare) every time I had to go to a networking event, party or group get-together. And I always would end up wondering, “Why did I even come to this thing?”
Networking events can be awful. Parties full of strangers can be intimidating. Trying to work a room is hard!
Here’s the thing I’m here to tell you: Networking doesn’t have to be difficult.
I was so tired of going to events that were a waste of time, overwhelming or awkward that I decided to find a way to change it.
As a recovering awkward person, I figured out the art and science of hacking a networking event. Today, I am going to share those tricks with you.
1. Name Tag Tip
What’s one of the first things you do at a networking event? Fill out a nametag. Don’t think about this much? That is about to change! I have an insider tip on name tags: always, always look at other people’s name tags before filling out yours. I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened to me where I look like a giant nerd because I have filled out my full name and company and everyone else just has their first name. Or worse, I just write my first name and everyone else practically has their resume written on their chest. Save yourself the pain and get in the habit of checking out others first.
- Bonus Tip: When you can, add a conversation starter to your name-tag. Notice that everyone else is putting their company name? Unless your company name is intriguing, try writing a catch phrase like, “Non-Spammy Sales Guy” or “Marketing Guru” or “Leadership Interpreter.”
- Quick Story: I used to put “Science of People” on my nametags and now I never do. Why? No one really asked about it. Now I put, “Behavioral Investigator” or “Author” or, if I am feeling really brave, “Human Lie Detector.”
2. Create A Relationship Action Plan
Have you sat down and planned your networking efforts? In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says that a fatal mistake people make is failing to realize that building a strong network is just like any other goal. You need an action plan that outlines who you want to build connections with and how you plan on doing it. Here’s how to make your Relationship Action Plan:
- Make two lists. The first one will be people you’ve met and want to strengthen your relationship with. Examples include colleagues, cool people you’ve met at events and other acquaintances. The second list will be people you want to meet. For example, leaders at work, members of a community you want to be involved in or influencers in your niche.
- Create an action plan. Take each list and decide on actions you’re going to take to meet or strengthen your relationship with each person. As you do this, strategize the best ways to connect with each individual. For example, if you’re meeting for the first time, focus on making a great first impression. Or, if you already know the person, find ways to talk to them more often by setting up monthly coffee dates.
- Update your Relationship Action Plan regularly as you foster connections and develop new goals. The more deliberate you are in your networking efforts, the faster you’ll build relationships.
3. What to do at a Networking Event
The biggest rookie mistake I see is when people plant themselves right at the entrance of a networking event to meet people. This is the worst spot! Here’s why:
When people walk into an event you have to give them time to breathe! Instinctively, when we are in a new place around new people we want two things: Nourishment (typically a drink or food) and to survey the room. So, don’t plant yourself right in the doorway. Anyone you pounce on right as they enter only will be thinking about getting something from the bar, loading up a plate or trying to check out the room surreptitiously over your head.
The best place to stand is right where people leave when exiting the bar. This way, they have a drink in their hand and they are ready to mingle. This is always where I plant myself when I’m at networking events and it makes for super easy conversations.
4. Treasure Lines
Never pass up the opportunity to meet someone while standing in line. It is the easiest, non-awkward way to meet the person in front of and possibly even behind you. The bonus is that if you don’t enjoy speaking with them, you easily can end the conversation once you get your drink or food. At a networking event where I really don’t know anyone, I will get back in line when it is extra long so I can meet more people easily. If you need help thinking of something to say, check out our killer conversation starters.
5. Use the Head Tilt
It can be hard to make real connections at networking events, but it’s possible. And I do it using body language. My favorite move is the head tilt. The head tilt is the universal body language sign for “I’m listening.” You can do this when someone is speaking to show you are paying attention and excited to meet them. This makes you more charismatic.
Need more strategies on connecting with people?
- First Impressions: 8 Science-Backed Strategies to Leave a Lasting First Impression
- Elevator Pitches: I can help you with your elevator pitch!
6. Be a Business Card Master
Two problems always happen with business cards at networking events. First, awkwardly searching for your business card when someone asks for it. Or second, losing someone’s business card so you can’t follow up the next day. Avoid having to dig through your purse or wallet to find a business card or losing the ones you get by using my system–right pocket: my business cards, left pocket: other people’s business cards. You’ll never lose a card again and it makes the exchange super easy. By the way, if you have a purse, use one pocket for yours and one for someone else’s.
- Action Step: Is your business card boring? Read our guide on making your business cards rock.
- Insider Tip: A great blog post on Eventbrite also suggests Peeping the Guestlist before an event, which really can help you target the right people.
7. The Name Association Trick
Remembering names can be a nightmare, especially when you have met someone multiple times! I am going to show you how to never forget a name again. Researchers from Emory University attempted to improve people’s name retention and recall over three sessions. In the first session, each participant took a face recall test to establish their baseline ability. In the following sessions, each participant was taught a memory strategy. After only a month, the participants significantly improved their recall ability, some up to 69 percent!
Here’s what they learned. Attach a visual cue to a unique facial or body feature. This memory strategy comes from the EON-Mem (Ecologically Oriented Neurorehabilitation of Memory) program. Here is an example: This is my friend Lacy. If I met her at a party, I would think her hair looks just like an Ace with the pointed A top. Ace = L-Ace-Y
Use this technique and you always will remember people’s names. It also will help improve your creativity!
Humans are social creatures. We thrive by helping each other grow. Nearly everything you accomplish is a result of the people you spend time with. From sharing information about new opportunities to playing an influential role in your personal development, your network – every person you know – is there supporting you along the way. This is why building relationships is such an important skill. Every person you meet is a vault containing a wealth of insight, knowledge and experience. As you get to know people, you get to share that wealth and use it to make your own life richer and more successful.
This is why having a large, diverse network is critical to success. But, how do you build one?
- Pick a tangential niche. Think about the circles you frequent — are there any tangential circles? For example, when I first moved to Portland, Oregon, I joined every entrepreneur group in town. Very quickly, I met the community and stopped growing my relationships because the same (amazing) people kept showing up. I thought about what circles could be close to entrepreneurs, but not the same. I tried travel groups next. Entrepreneurs often travel since they can work virtually, and I got to meet new entrepreneurs as well as fascinating individuals who travel the world.
- Find anchor tenants. Ferrazzi calls the first people you connect with in a group ‘anchor tenants’ and the principle is if you earn their respect, then you instantly gain credibility with the anchor tenant’s friends. Not only is this a great strategy to meet people outside of your social circle, it also saves you time. Rather than trying to connect with an entire group of individuals, you can focus on one or two key people and get to know the rest later.
- Leverage LinkedIn. One of the best ways to network ahead of an event or how to network online is to leverage LinkedIn. Implement these 15 Strategies to Improve Your LinkedIn Profile today.
9. Work the Food Tables
It is great to stand where people exit the bar, But DON’T stand where people exit with food. This is not as good, because if you start speaking to someone with a full plate of food, it is hard to shake hands and all they want to do is eat! Instead of standing where people exit the food station, you can stand at cocktail tables or seat yourself at tables where people eat. This is much easier because people can put their plate down and chat as they eat casually. Plus, studies show that breaking bread with someone builds rapport faster than just talking.
10. Help Others
“Can I help you?” Asking this question is one of the most effective ways to build long-lasting connections. Once you help someone, you instantly become more likable because you relieved some of their stress and added value to their life. Just like showing your appreciation, offering to help is a strategy that will earn you a positive reputation because you’re focusing on other people and not yourself.
“The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.” – Never Eat Alone
How you help people doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need to do is offer your knowledge and/or your time – a small price to pay to gain a new relationship, especially with influential people who often need the most help. You also can help others by harnessing your curiosity. This is one of my favorite tips for being more social. When you’re speaking with people, think about answering the following questions:
- What motivates this person?
- What is important to them?
- What energizes them?
- What do they love to talk about?
- What shuts them down or closes them off?
- What do they value?
Make it your goal to answer these questions about every person you are speaking with to give yourself a social mission. Before you know it, the person will find you fascinating, even though you have been trying to learn about them!
11. Learn the Science of Sparkling Conversation
It can be hard to drum up conversation with a stranger. In my book, Captivate, I have broken down conversation into three categories:
- The First Five Minutes: This is your first impression and when you decide if someone is worth getting to know. It can happen professionally, romantically or socially. This level is the front door — can you get invited inside someone’s inner circle?
- The First Five Hours: Once you have made it past the first level, you get to have a first meeting, first phone call or first date. This is when you move past first impressions into rapport building.
- The First Five Days: This is the final level. You want people in this level who you would be happy to accompany on a weekend road trip. It’s the ultimate level of trust and connection. This could be romantic — with a partner, but it also could be with a long-term business partner or best friend.
Be sure you know how to master each level.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes that “The more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you are.” Unlike your close friends and colleagues, your acquaintances thrive in a different social universe than you do. The result is they know about jobs and networking opportunities that no one else in your inner circle does. In fact, 83 percent of people who find their jobs through a current contact do so through people they see only occasionally, if at all. So, those Facebook friends you haven’t spoken to in a while… it might be time to check in again. Who knows what valuable information they may have to offer?
12. Become a Master Mentor/Mentee
Mentorships are one of the most valuable relationships you can invest in. There’s no better way to get ahead and expand your network than to spend time with people who already have achieved your same goals.
“A successful mentoring relationship needs equal parts utility and emotion.” – Never Eat Alone
Though the goal of mentorship is driving measurable progress, it’s not just about sharing advice and results. The best mentors genuinely care about their mentees and are personally invested in their careers. Mentorships often are seen as a one-sided relationship. However, great mentors gain just as much value from their mentees. Benefits include:
- Mentees often are your most loyal acquaintances. Once they become successful, you can count on them to return the favor in the form of knowledge, connections or other assistance in the future.
- They offer fresh perspectives. Younger mentees in particular can help you keep up to date with the latest trends.
- You discover new ways to solve problems by helping them overcome obstacles in their careers.
Afraid you can’t implement all these tips? Don’t worry! We have them all in a plan for you here:
13. Leverage Social Capital
“It should be your goal not to meet the most people as possible, but to understand who else is connected to whom and what the rest of the network looks like.” –David Burkus
A study conducted by Ronald Burt found that executives who learn about network structures are 36 percent to 42 percent more likely to improve their performance and 42 percent to 74 percent more likely to be promoted. I sat down with social capital expert David Burkus in our YouTube series, The World’s Most Interesting People to discuss how you can increase your social capital:
14. Give the Perfect Handshake
One of the first things you do when you meet someone is give a handshake. How is yours? Is it amazing? It should be! If you aren’t sure how to give a strong handshake, read my handshake tutorial or watch below.
Giving the perfect handshake is only part of your first impression. Need more help? You might want to join our next class of People School. In it we dive into:
- How to be More Charismatic
- Improve Your Body Language
- Build Your Professional Confidence
- Increase Your Social Assertiveness
15. Be a Super Connector
You know those people who seem to know everyone? They’re known as super connectors because they’re the superheroes of the networking world. If they’re unable to help someone, they know a list of people who can, which makes them great friends to have.
While you may not have the expansive contact list of a super connector yet, you can add similar value to your network by spending a little bit of time each week connecting people who should know each other in two easy steps:
- Keep up-to-date with what the people in your network need and what their strengths are.
- Introduce people whose needs match another person’s strengths. For example, connect your acquaintance who wants to transition into a marketing career with a marketing professional you know.
This is a winning strategy for everyone involved because the people you connect benefit from knowing each other and both feel grateful toward you for bringing them together.
16. How to Make a Lasting Impression
Have you had a great conversation? Met some amazing people? …and now you are ready to go? Your last impression is just as important as your first impression. Here is a quick tutorial on how to make a lasting impression no matter who you are talking to:
Bonus Tip: Can’t get someone to stop talking? That’s the worst! Here are a few tips on how to nicely interrupt someone.
17. Don’t Forget the Follow-Up
You could be the master of every networking event you attend, but if you don’t follow up, you will fail at truly building connections. People are busy and if you don’t connect with them often, you’ll be forgotten. Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of meeting someone new, send a brief email reminding them who you are and what you talked about. Doing so establishes your connection with them and opens up a line of communication so you can send them messages in the future. After that, try to follow up once every quarter with acquaintances and at least once per month with people you’re trying to build a closer relationship with.
Here are some quick follow-up ideas:
- Pass on relevant articles that add value and potentially spark a conversation.
- Wish people a happy birthday.
- Inform people about opportunities they may be interested in.
Bottom Line: Networking is a science that needs to be practiced. Take a few calculated social risks and you will be rewarded with some amazing new relationships!
Here’s a recent interview I conducted with networking expert Jordan Harbinger. Check it out for more great tips!
18. What to Wear to a Networking Event
It’s so hard to know what to wear while networking. First, make sure you wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll surely be on your feet a lot. Second, I always try to dress one degree more formal than the event calls for. You never know when you’ll meet a big VIP. You also want to think about colors and clothing tricks.
Bonus: Have a conference coming up? Check out my guide on how to network at a conference like a pro.
It’s time to put all of these tips together!
*Be sure to save this link to re-read before your next networking event!
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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