A Guide to Networking: Making the Most of Your Mingling

At Online Optimism, we strive to embody our core values every day, one of which being that screens will not replace handshakes. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to constant shifts in how we interact, networking best practices have remained unaffected. They say your network is your net worth, so Online Optimism has created a guide to ensure the next time you swap business cards (even virtually), it’ll lead to a deal closed, a job gained, and have you networking like a pro.

If you’re not a fan of small talk, the thought of networking might seem reminiscent of job interviews or first dates: uncomfortable. Although putting yourself out there in a professional setting can be intimidating, around 85% of job hirings stem from some form of networking. 

Given the importance networking plays in career development, we’ve put together a list of networking tips for young professionals and business veterans alike. Following our guide, you’ll approach your next networking opportunity with the tools to make the most of your mingling and network like a pro. 

Find the Right Networking Event for You

Networking events come in different flavors; there’s no need to suffer through ones that don’t suit your taste. Do you prefer a buttoned-up environment where fellow professionals can keep the conversation business-oriented? Visit your local chamber of commerce or business association’s website to find their calendar of events – they’re more likely to organize structured networking events that remain professional affairs. 

Dean Scaduto of Kitchen Infinity notes the importance of associating with those more experienced, “Because of the channel of greater prospects provided to them through networking, business and career-minded individuals who have networked over time have been able to expand with less effort.” A sure-fire way to learn to network like a pro is to surround yourself with them. 

On the other hand, if you’d prefer to mingle in a more relaxed environment, you’d be better off attending a happy hour meetup or speed networking event. As a networking tip for young professionals, particularly, environments where the stakes feel low, tend to result in conversation flowing more effortlessly. Additionally, laid-back settings allow attendees to move past the professional facade and get to know one another on a more personal level. 

Try searching for local young professional leagues, interest groups, or even Meetup and Eventbrite to find informal networking opportunities near you. 

Do Your Homework 

To begin networking like a pro, it’s advantageous to prepare for a networking event ahead of time. We’re not suggesting you show up with flashcards in hand, but take a moment to do a little digging regarding the event, its organizers, and possible attendees. Some preparation ideas to consider include: 

  • What organization, club, interest group, or chamber is organizing the event?
  • Where is the event being held, and does the venue hold any special interests?
  • If there is a public guest list, research some of its attendees on LinkedIn to better understand who you’ll be mingling with. 

Whether it’s an organization, chamber, or social club, many of those in attendance will likely either be a member of said organization or be a newcomer — both of which serve as great talking points. 

Get People to Talk About Themselves 

Arguably, one of the most intimidating aspects of networking is the fear of having nothing to talk about. Rather than scramble for conversation topics, we propose bringing up everyone’s favorite subject: themselves. People spend around 60% of conversations talking about themselves. Studies have shown that sharing personal information (networking-friendly information only) has been linked to increased interpersonal liking and helping to form social bonds. 

When it comes to business dealings, we’d all like to think we’re unbiased, but frequently the key to networking like a pro is fostering your business relationships. Brian Dean of Exploding Topics notes that “you will never know how much you know unless you listen to other people. […] The reservoir of information or ideas you’ve accumulated throughout time is mostly responsible for your work success.” Next time you attend a networking event, you’d be wise to ask your conversation partner how their day was.

Your Networking is Only as Good as Your Follow-Up Strategy

You may still be left wondering, what is the most important thing about meeting new contacts? If you invest the time and possibly resources into attending networking events, don’t let the fruits of your labor go to waste. Following a networking event, go through this checklist to ensure you’ve set yourself up to form lasting connections.

  • Organize the business cards you accumulated through the event. They’ll do you no good collecting dust at the bottom of your bag. 
  • After you’ve left the networking event, or during if you have a moment, write down what you spoke about with each of your contacts. Noting this will make your follow-up message even more relevant and personalized. 
  • Connect with those you had conversations with on LinkedIn. Even if you don’t do business with your networking connection, one of their connections might be your next business partner or employer.
  • When you do connect on LinkedIn, write a quick, personalized note along with the request to remind your connection about your conversation. 
  • If you receive your networking connection’s email, send a more detailed follow-up email the following day. You can remind them where you met, what you talked about, and your position at your workplace.

Note that even if you don’t receive a response from your networking connection, there is still time to connect. Set a reminder for yourself one month from the networking event to check in on your connection. Jodi Daniels of Red Clover Advisors emphasizes the importance of attentiveness by saying, “showing a genuine interest in the person is what builds a relationship that over time grows into a trusted one where referrals naturally flow.” 

Simply swapping business cards and not following up is not what makes networking successful, but instead showing your connection that you intend to use it. 

Level Up Your Networking Today!

Creating and nurturing your business connections is not only proper business etiquette, but its benefits can lead to business deals, new hires, and a vast network of professional ties.

Now that we’ve given you the tools to network like a pro, why not put them to use? Our team has put together networking calendars for the New Orleans, Atlanta, and D.C. areas; check them out to find a networking event near you, and make the most of your mingling.