33 Networking Tips: Non-Sleazy Advice That Actually Works
A lot of networking advice is sleazy and terrible. Many tactics waste time while others just leave a bad taste. In recent years, there’s been a shifting focus to authenticity and creating mutual value — and learning to implement these things is the key to networking effectively. To make it easier for you, we’ve organized this list into sections ranging from advice on in-person events to LinkedIn-specific strategies.
You only get one chance at a first impression, and the stakes are higher than ever. When employers and professionals have access to a global network of talent at their fingertips, you need to make sure you’re standing out from the crowd.
Prepare Your Introduction
Learning to introduce yourself concisely and confidently will set the tone for a memorable interaction. Don’t just say your name and title; elaborate with a notable fact about yourself, especially one that’s relevant to the situation or discussion that you’re about to have.
In addition to conveying your area of expertise, think about your areas of interest. Focus on letting your personality shine through. If you’re a funny person, incorporate light humor into your intro. You want to be perceived as authentic and lively, not stiff or nervous.
Underdress and you can ruin every first impression before you even open your mouth. Whether you’re attending an in-person networking event or a virtual meeting, make sure to dress accordingly.
When in doubt of the dress code, go a step above. If it’s casual, dress smart casual. If it’s smart casual, dress business casual. Don’t be caught looking unprepared or like you don’t care about your appearance.
Positive Body Language
Maintaining eye contact will show that you’re engaged in what a person is saying to you, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to body language.
Focus on having good posture and being open with your body, especially if you’re not currently engaged in a conversation and you want to look approachable. Smile and nod to acknowledge those around you as you pass them by.
When talking, avoid overusing hand gestures. When listening, try to subtly mimic the body language of the person speaking to you. If you want to invite someone into a conversation you’re having, make eye contact with them and open your body to them. Before you know it, you’ll have many eyes on you.
Ask Relevant Questions
Learning how to artfully relate discussions to something a person just said to you, or find a question that leads you into another conversation, is incredibly important to having meaningful interactions. Relevant questions are the perfect bridge in most situations.
If someone just told you a story about their last business trip and you’d like to learn more about the work they do, you could easily ask: “What kind of work is your company doing over there?” or “Now, tell me, is this the work you thought you’d be doing a decade ago?”
Thoughtful questions like these will help you get to know a person and their work on a deeper level, and in turn, help you understand what value you might be able to offer them.
Have a Goal
Networking is ultimately a business activity, which means you have to set goals in order to measure your success.
Before attending any event, have a clear goal. How many people do you want to meet? Are you looking for job leads? Do you just want to learn more about the industry? This goal will help you determine who to interact with and what to focus on.
Follow Up Later
Fail to follow up with the people you spent all day talking to and you’ll have wasted all of that effort. Reach out to the people you met within a week of the event, either through LinkedIn or a personalized email.
When you follow up, make sure you tell them that you’re interested in keeping in touch. If any opportunities or future collaborations were discussed, tell them you’d love to chat more when they have time.
Networking Strategies: Crafting Your Unique Approach
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at a networking event, but the right strategy will allow you to foster lasting connections, even if you don’t talk to everyone in the room.
Find Common Ground
Finding common ground is a good way to start a conversation. This begins with small talk, which can reveal a shared hobby, acquaintance, or experience if you ask good questions. Once you find that common ground, the conversation will flow more smoothly and feel far more authentic.
Offer Genuine Compliments
If there is something that you can sincerely compliment, don’t pass up the opportunity to do so. This can be as simple as admiring the work their company is doing, or perhaps you’ve read a piece of content they published. Recognizing their achievements will help break the ice and get them interested in having a conversation with you.
Be Curious About Their Journey
Getting insights into a person’s unique perspective helps you take a conversation to a deeper level. As you speak to people, ask about the challenges they’ve faced, the trends they’re excited about, and the goals they have set for themselves in the year to come.
Present a Thought-Provoking Idea
Talking about industry trends and thought-provoking ideas that are relevant to your industry shows that you’re knowledgeable about your field. It can also lead to people revealing their perspectives, and even passionate opinions, which can instantly create stimulating discussions.
Make it a point to listen when people introduce themselves and remember their names. If you can use their name naturally throughout a conversation, you will keep them engaged and demonstrate both respect and attention to detail.
On the flip side, if you’re bad with names and happen to forget, don’t hesitate to ask politely. As soon as you realize you forgot, simply say: “I’m sorry, could you please remind me of your name?” Ideally, don’t wait until the end of the interaction, because you don’t want to leave them with a bad impression.
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Involve Others in the Conversation
Leaders make sure that everyone feels included and valued. No matter what your role is, you can demonstrate your leadership skills by involving others in a conversation if they are clearly listening and engaged.
Becoming the matchmaker at a networking event is probably the least stressful way to offer immense value to others. While you shouldn’t spend the entire event doing this, taking the time to introduce two people who you think could offer value to each other will position you as a resourceful, helping individual that people won’t forget.
Networking Event Tips: Navigating the Room like a Pro
The last thing you want to do at a networking event is get caught up in one conversation or feel like you’re circling the room like a hawk, trying to find someone to talk to. Mastering the room is an art form, but a handful of techniques can help you get there.
Don’t be late to a networking event, if you can help it. If you’re one of the first people in the door, others who arrive early or on time will note your punctuality. The room will also be quieter, giving you more time and space to make initial connections before the event is flooded with conversations.
Position Yourself Strategically
Standing in a corner suggests you are withdrawing from the crowd and maybe trying to take a break from others. Sitting down can have the same effect, as if you’re waiting for a specific person to join you.
Walk around the room looking for a comfortable place to lean or stand where there are many conversations happening. The food or drink table is a good place to find people who are in between interactions and looking for someone new to meet.
Embrace the Power of Small Talk
Small talk can feel like a waste of time to some people, but it’s how every conversation begins. Making small talk is a good way to quickly assess who is in your industry or relevant to speak to based on your goals, allowing you to make a brief introduction and then leave before getting into a deep conversation in case they aren’t a good match.
Manage Your Time Wisely
If you spend the entire event talking to just a few people, you’ll leave feeling completely unaccomplished, and the other people will too. Learning how to gracefully exit a conversation is essential.
Before walking off, make sure the person knows you value them and their time, and that you’d like to connect again soon. Remember, they’re also there to network, and they may be relieved if you take the initiative to end the discussion.
Use Business Cards Wisely
Business cards can still be valuable at a networking event, but you shouldn’t pass them out like candy. Only exchange business cards if you truly think your services can offer value to an individual and vice versa.
If you are handed a lot of business cards throughout the event, try to sort them as you go. Those who you definitely want to follow up with should be placed in one pocket, for instance, so you don’t get them mixed up with the groups of individuals who are handing out business cards to everyone they shake hands with.
Be Mindful of Non-Verbal Cues
Non-verbal cues can tell you when you should try changing the topic or when a conversation needs to be wrapped up. Learning how to respond to a person’s non-verbal cues — especially when they’re too polite to say anything aloud — will help your interactions go smoothly.
Join a Group Conversation
If there’s a large group that has open body language, don’t hesitate to approach them. The same goes for a small group where the person speaking is clearly making eye contact or inviting you in. These events are all about joining mid-conversation and carrying it on as someone else walks off looking for another person to meet.
Respect Personal Space
Networking events bring together so many people of wide backgrounds. While a pat on the shoulder might be a friendly gesture in your books, it could make them very uncomfortable. Always err on the side of caution and respect personal space.
Likewise, if someone crosses a boundary and makes you feel uncomfortable with personal contact, use your non-verbal body language to help communicate that. If they pick up on your signals, the conversation will be able to move ahead with ease.
Networking Tips for Introverts: Turning Quiet Power into a Networking Advantage
If you consider yourself an introvert, going into a social event can feel overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to be! Introverts can be thriving networkers if they practice the right techniques. Here are some tips to help you get yourself out there.
Self-affirmations can give you a great boost to your confidence, and remind you of what you’re trying to accomplish. “I am capable of making meaningful connections,” and similar statements can prove very helpful throughout the event.
Set Achievable Goals
Don’t expect to become the hit of the party. Most people struggle to make meaningful connections at networking events. As an introvert, you can use your empathy and great listening skills to your advantage, but you still need to be realistic about what you can accomplish.
If you expect 50 people to be at the event and it’s going to run for a few hours, set a goal to speak to 7-10 of them during that time frame.
Prepare Talking Points
Having talking points on hand can help you avoid awkward pauses in conversation. Be ready to pull them out at various points throughout the event. Avoid controversial topics, and try to stick to industry-related news.
Find Quiet Corners
Feeling overwhelmed by all the human interaction? It’s okay to take breaks when you need them. A quiet corner can give you a place to regroup before jumping back into another discussion.
Focus on One-on-One Conversations
Group discussions rarely lead to meaningful connections. While you might start in a group, try to break off into a one-on-one conversation.
If you can, offer up your own anecdotes. You shouldn’t turn a conversation into something about you, but you should also avoid making it one-sided and interrogating the other person for more information. Conversation is a matter of give-and-take, and active listening can help you determine when to do what.
Leverage Listening Skills
Active listening goes beyond opening your ears, it’s about opening your mind and trying to understand what someone is telling you from their perspective. If you have trouble moving conversations along, active listening skills can help immensely.
When someone is telling a story, don’t interject. However, when there’s a natural pause to breathe, consider asking a simple question. “Where was this?” or “How did you get there?” shows that you’re interested in their story and looking for more details.
Don’t burn yourself out by feeling pressured to constantly talk to people. Schedule downtime where you step away for lunch or just go to the break room or restroom to have a few quiet moments.
Need more guidance on how to form a positive mindset going into any interaction? Here are my favorite books to help you learn (and put into action!) tips on positivity:
Online Networking Tips
Networking online can easily become a time-suck, but you can grow your digital network if you employ the right strategies.
Become a Top Commenter
Leaving meaningful comments on relevant industry posts on platforms like LinkedIn can help you get noticed by others in your space, and even by creators themselves.
If you’re interested in connecting with someone, always check to see if they’re active on LinkedIn. If they are, start leaving short, insightful comments. This is a good way to warm them up before sending a connection request.
Build Your Digital Presence
People don’t want to connect with faceless profiles. Aside from adding a photo and tagline to your online accounts, consider setting up a simple website where you can send people who want to know more about what you do.
Join Online Groups
Online groups related to your industry and interests, especially on Facebook and LinkedIn, can instantly get you in front of thousands of people worth talking to. If you join these groups, engage often and try to post your own insights too.
Ask to Connect
When you see someone that you think can offer you value, and you believe that you can return the favor, ask them to connect. Strike up a conversation and try to converse with them often, every month or two, so that they don’t forget who you are or how you could help them in the future.
Host Coffee Talks
Gather around the virtual water cooler by hosting a “coffee talk” once a month where you invite everyone in your network to come chat. This is a great way to foster stronger connections within your network and get a better feel for who you want to spend one-on-one time talking with in the future.
Plus, becoming the person that hosts these digital avenues will make you a more valuable resource on its own. People will thank you for giving them the chance to grow their own networks as they get to know you better.