When you learn how to network, 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.
Networking is the practice of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with people, whether they are in your industry, field of interest, or broader social circles. Whether you’re schmoozing at an industry event or sliding into someone’s DMs, it’s all about building those game-changing bonds that can fuel your growth and catapult you towards your goals.
I’m going to give you step-by-step networking tips to improve your skills!
24 Best Tips for Networking Anytime, Anywhere
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.
Stand at the exit of the bar
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.
Be a Business Card Master (and make a shareable contact in your phone)
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.
Also make sure you create a shareable contact in your phone with your email, number and even social handle. This way you can “share your contact” easily with someone when exchanging info.
Action Step: Is your business card boring? Read our guide on making your business cards rock.
Use the name trick to remember names
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.
Researchers1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348454/ 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. 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 will always remember people’s names. It also will help improve your creativity!
Leverage your introvert strengths
Most people make the mistake of forcing themselves to network. Or they pretend to be outgoing to make new connections.
You do not have to fake being an extrovert to network well.
Being introverted has its own unique set of advantages in the networking game.
Action Step: First thing’s first—identify what makes you comfortable and what doesn’t. If large gatherings make you anxious but one-on-one coffee meetups are your jam, aim for the latter. You can even start by messaging online if that’s more up your alley. Start small and then gradually push your comfort zone as you get more comfortable.
Play to Your Strengths by following these tips:
- Listening: Introverts are generally good listeners. Use this to your advantage by asking thoughtful questions and truly listening to what the other person has to say. You can also make a great impression by following up with a LinkedIn message mentioning a unique insight from the speaker, showing you listened.
- Depth Over Breadth: While extroverts may excel at making a large number of connections, introverts excel at creating deeper, more meaningful relationships. In a networking event, focus your attention on the couple of people that you really “click” with. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t click with anyone, and avoid being clingy.
- Thoughtfulness: Your natural tendency to think before you speak can actually make your interactions more impactful. It shows that you’re processing what the other person is saying and responding in a meaningful way.
- Online Networking: Platforms like LinkedIn are fantastic for introverts. You can think before you type, there’s no awkward silence, and you can approach people at your own pace. Try connecting with others via LinkedIn before meeting up in person—but also make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to snuff.
- Virtual Events: Webinars, virtual meetups, and even social media platforms offer less intimidating environments for making initial connections.
- Choose Quality Over Quantity: Don’t wear yourself thin by attending every event under the sun. Instead, aim for events where you’re more likely to meet people who align with your career or personal interests, such as IT-specific networking events or entrepreneurial-specific ones.
Connecting with the event organizer
So, you’re at a networking event, and everyone is rushing to meet industry bigwigs and collect business cards like Pokémon cards. While that’s all well and good, we’re going to focus on a trick that most people overlook—the event organizer.
Organizers usually know who’s who and can offer introductions that might take months or even years to make otherwise.
Pro Tip: Don’t just say “thank you for organizing this” and move on. Stand out from the crowd with a little extra flair. Maybe bring along a small token of appreciation—a hand-written thank-you note, or perhaps a book you think they’ll enjoy. This not only showcases your gratitude but also your thoughtfulness.
Bonus Tip: Besides the organizer, don’t forget the staff. They often have insights on who’s who and can make introductions.
Look at other nametags before filling out yours
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!
Here’s 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.”
Now if you’re looking for something to step up your game, try this great resource:
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
Make a virtual guest book
What if there was a way to infuse technology into networking, making your interactions more memorable and efficient?
By proposing a selfie instead of exchanging business cards, you create a dual-layered memory cue. First, people are more likely to remember your face after a personalized photo. Second, the act itself is a unique conversation starter and memory hook.
So as you wrap up a productive chat, suggest a selfie as a novel way to remember the meeting. Make sure your phone’s camera is good to go to avoid awkward fumbling. Keep in mind some people may not want to take a selfie, so respect their wishes as well.
Send them a message later on, using the selfie as a reference point: “It was great discussing [X topic] with you. Here’s a keepsake from our meeting!”
Pro Tip: Instead of just a close-up of faces, include some background related to the event. It adds context to the memory.
Use lines to your advantage
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 can easily 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.
Go tag team
Have a friend tagging along with you? Great!
They can be used as social support. However, if you want to branch out and meet new people, try this: Once you’re at the event, part ways but stay in touch via text. This way, if one of you meets someone the other should connect with, you can quickly coordinate.
When you introduce your colleague to a new contact, don’t just mention their name and job title. Share a unique fact or achievement about them to make the connection more memorable. Your colleague should do the same for you.
I love this technique because it’s great for really large networking events!
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 appear 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!
Have a prop ready
Networking events can often feel like an endless sea of same-same but different. People shake hands, exchange business cards, and ask, “So, what do you do?” But what if you could change the dynamic and create instant engagement?
Enter the power of props.
Props can act as icebreakers, and they give people something to remember you by. Instead of just being John or Jane from XYZ Company, you become “The person with that cool [insert prop here].”
Here are some unique props you can try:
- Tech Gadget: If you’re in the tech industry, a new piece of hardware or a fascinating gadget can be an instant conversation starter.
- Artistic Notebook: For creative professionals, a notebook with your own sketches on the cover can engage others with a peek into your work.
- Custom Lapel Pin: It can represent a cause you’re passionate about, and it’s right there on your chest drawing attention.
- Interesting Book: Holding a book that’s relevant to your industry can not only spark conversations but also gives an insight into your professional interests.
- A 3D-Printed Miniature Model: 3D-printed items can offer a tactile experience that pictures just can’t match, and they make for intriguing conversation starters about technology, design, or your specific line of work.
- Travel Keepsake: If you’re well-traveled, a small keepsake from a recent trip can be both a talking point and a story to share.
- Specialty Coffee Cup: If you’re a coffee connoisseur, your own specialty coffee cup—perhaps with a fascinating design or tech feature—can brew some interesting conversations.
- Wearable Bio-Monitor: For those in health tech, sports, or just passionate about well-being, a high-tech wearable that monitors vitals or some unique biological factor can be a fantastic ice-breaker. With real-time data on a mobile app, you could instantly make your interactions more interactive and informative.
Build a large network
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 tenants’ 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.
Don’t hover at the buffet table
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 show2https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-03-16-social-eating-connects-communities that breaking bread with someone builds rapport faster than just talking.
Ask “Can I help you?”
“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!
Learn the science of sparkling conversation
It can be hard to drum up conversation with a stranger. However, there is a secret to captivating conversation. Check this out to level up your conversation skills:
Communicate With Confidence
Do you struggle with small talk? Do you often run out of things to say or feel awkward and self-conscious in social situations?
💪 Speak so people listen,
🤐 No more awkward silences,
🚫 No more small talk.
Be sure you know how to master each level.
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. So if you don’t value your acquaintances, think again! Here are my favorite conversation starters:
- Working on anything exciting these days?
- Know any great restaurants around here?
- How do you know the host?
Become a master mentor or 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 don’t know what to ask a mentor or mentee? Find out here: 84 Killer Questions To Ask A Mentor For Better Self-Growth (scienceofpeople.com)
Increase your 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 structures3https://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ronald.Burt/research/files/TESSC.pdf 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 our video here:
Elevator Pitch Jenga
We’ve all been told the importance of having a polished elevator pitch. But what if you’re at an event with a diverse set of professionals? Offering the same, rehearsed spiel to everyone can make you sound robotic and unauthentic. Here’s where Elevator Pitch Jenga comes in.
Instead of having just one pitch, I like to build a “Jenga tower” of elevator pitches. Each block represents a different version of your pitch tailored to different scenarios, industries, or conversations.
When you’re talking to someone new, you “pull” the most relevant block out of your Jenga tower of pitches.
- Categorize Contacts: Think of the typical types of professionals you encounter at networking events—investors, peers in your industry, potential clients, etc.
- Draft Different Pitches: Write a unique 30-second pitch for each category. Make sure each one highlights how your skills or services can specifically benefit that audience.
- Practice: Rehearse these until they come naturally. Use a friend or family member as a practice audience, or even record yourself.
- Mindfulness: During the event, make it a point to quickly categorize new contacts into one of your preset categories.
- Pull the Right Block: Use the most relevant pitch as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to naturally let the conversation evolve from there.
Want more? Read our ultimate guide to elevator pitches: 9 Steps to the Perfect Elevator Pitch
Learn the art of 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.
Introduce your networks to each other
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.
Pro Tip: When introducing two contacts to each other, always include why you think they should meet.
Find key people at your event
Networking with key players can supercharge your career or business in unimaginable ways. These are the individuals who can provide insider insights, connect you to coveted opportunities, and even become mentors.
But first, you have to know who they are.
- Research Platforms: Use LinkedIn, Twitter, industry publications, and webinars to look for names that are consistently mentioned. These are usually the people setting trends and sharing high-value content.
- Peer Endorsements: Pay attention to who your industry peers are following, quoting, or engaging with online. This often points to influential figures.
- Go Beyond the Spotlight: Key people are not always the most visible. Sometimes they are behind-the-scenes power players. Look for industry consultants, prolific writers, or those credited with pioneering work.
- Create a Tier List: Categorize these key figures based on their relevance to your specific goals. Tier 1 could be immediate potential contacts, Tier 2 for long-term goals, etc.
Make a lasting impression with new contacts
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.
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!
Pro Tip: Use less common holidays as an excuse to reach out—like “Happy National Coffee Day, thought of you.”
Learn the dress hacks to success
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.
Networking Don’ts (Avoid These at All Costs!)
Remember, networking is as much about what you shouldn’t do as it is about what you should do. Being aware of these pitfalls can help you navigate the networking landscape more effectively.
- Over-Automation: Avoid using generic, automated messages on platforms like LinkedIn. Personalization is key.
- Name-Dropping Overload: Mentioning mutual connections is fine, but excessive name-dropping can come off as inauthentic.
- Talking Business Too Soon: Don’t pitch your services or ask for a favor within the first few minutes of a conversation.
- Checking Your Phone: Constantly glancing at your phone can make you seem disinterested or rude. In fact, research shows that you’d be better off not using it at all (if you can).
- One-Way Conversations: Don’t dominate the discussion. Networking should be a mutual exchange of ideas and information.
- Overindulging: Whether it’s food or alcohol, excessive consumption can make a poor impression. Don’t treat the food as a buffet—try to eat less than normal to avoid bloating yourself and feeling sluggish.
- Generic Follow-Ups: A “nice to meet you” email is forgettable. Reference specific points from your conversation in your follow-up.
- Ignoring the Introverts: Don’t just go for the loudest person in the room; sometimes, the quiet individuals have the most to offer.
- Business Card Barrage: Handing out business cards like candy dilutes their value. Reserve them for meaningful interactions.
- Monopolizing Time: Don’t hog someone’s time, especially if you see that others are waiting to speak with them. Make your connection and move on.
- Neglecting Body Language: Failing to make eye contact, or crossing your arms, can send unintended negative signals.
- Overpromising: Saying you’ll do something and not following up can tarnish your reputation.
- Discounting Juniors: Don’t focus only on senior-level professionals; those lower on the ladder can be valuable connections, too.
- Avoiding Event Staff: Don’t just speak with attendees. Event staff and vendors often have a broad network and can provide unique introductions.
- Bypassing the Follow-Up: Ghosting someone after initially showing interest is both confusing and unprofessional.
Networking Online vs. In-Person: The Pros and Cons
When it comes to networking, which is better: online or face-to-face? Let’s break it down and give you the insider track on making the most of both worlds.
- Accessibility: You can network in your pajamas! No need to travel anywhere, which is great for introverts or those who are time-constrained.
- Scope: The sheer number of people you can connect with is staggering.
- Specialized Groups: You can find online groups that are super niche, offering specialized knowledge you won’t get anywhere else.
Action Step: Ever find yourself scrolling through LinkedIn, but you have no clue how to make the first move? Check out our guide on how to break the ice in virtual networking scenarios.
Insider Tip: Use the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature on LinkedIn to see if someone might already be interested in what you bring to the table. A proactive message here could be your best foot forward.
- Lack of Intimacy: A digital “hello” can’t replicate the impact of a warm, physical handshake or eye contact.
- Easier to Forget: The lack of personal interaction can sometimes make it easier for people to forget you.
- Deeper Connections: The richness of face-to-face interactions facilitates deeper, more meaningful relationships.
- Instant Feedback: You can immediately gauge someone’s interest or boredom and adjust your approach accordingly.
- Physical Presence: Simply being there in person can make a lasting impression that’s hard to replicate online.
- Time-Consuming: Unlike online networking, you need to physically be there, which can be a huge time commitment.
- Limited Scope: You’re confined to who is in the room, which may or may not be the people you need to meet.
Action Step: If your in-person interactions are as stale as last year’s crackers, spice it up! Practice makes perfect, so consider joining a local speaking group or practice recording yourself to improve your conversation skills.
Insider Tip: Research from Harvard Business School4https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email shows that face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than emails. So if you’re planning on making a big ask, like a job referral or collaboration, try to do it in person.
The Hybrid Approach
Why limit yourself? A blend of both in-person and online networking can give you the best of both worlds. Start online to research and identify potential connections, then deepen those relationships through face-to-face interactions.
Action Step: Use the calendar method. Anytime you make a new online connection, set a reminder to touch base in person (if possible) or via a video call within the next three months. That’s right—put it in your calendar!
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!
How to Deal with Difficult People at Work
Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.
I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.