By Fayette Fox, Jaunty's Writer and Community Manager
There are few activities as important and disliked as networking. Fortunately, brushing up your social intelligence skills can help. At Jaunty's free workshops and courses, we teach how to have the confidence to approach anyone, strike up a conversation, and build a genuine connection. Once we have the skills, we're able to put an emotional wedge in our anxiety and can actually have fun approaching strangers at networking events.
Andrea Misir, Jaunty's Social Media Manager in New York City, recently got laid-off from her other job, doing account and campaign management for a third-party mobile ad server. (Basically it's a tech company that puts out the ads for people to click.) Job hunting can be stressful, but Andrea has a great attitude about getting laid-off and knows not to take it personally. For her next job, she's looking for a client services or account management role at a digital ad company. Lately, she's been going to a lot of networking events.
Here are some of Andrea's best networking tips.
"Believe it or not, networking is awesome, whether or not you're looking for a job," Andrea says. She likes networking events as a way to meet new people and feels they're "great to get other perspectives of what's going on in a specific industry or to even get a drinking buddy." She learns about events through industry group newsletters, Eventbrite, and occasionally through social media posts.
From our research at Jaunty, we know approaching strangers is one of the hardest social skills for many people. What if they think we're being too forward or weird? Andrea feels networking events are actually very safe places to try out our approach skills because everyone is there to meet people. "People aren't going to be assholes at networking events. They're not going to say, 'Hey get out of my face!'" she laughs. "Realizing that nothing bad is going to happen if you don't hit it off with anyone, is a good reminder. They're not going to pull out pitchforks if you try to start a conversation."
How to approach
"People will always respond to positivity," Andrea says. You can compliment people on their clothing or jewelry. In fact, some networking experts recommend wearing something distinctive to events for other people to use as an ice breaker. Andrea was actually able to strike up a conversation with a woman as she complimented her pretty turquoise necklace.
If there's a circle of people, stand next to someone and make eye contact. You can wait for them to talk to you or just introduce yourself. Remember to use open body language to seem more approachable.
What to say
After you introduce yourself, ask what they've gotten up to today. If you've come to a free Jaunty workshop, you know how you can thread off their response. It's better to have a playful back and forth than get into "interview mode" asking them too many questions.
At a recent Mobile Monday event, Andrea met someone from FanDuel, a fantasy football league with cash prizes. Riffing off a little football knowledge she gleaned from her boyfriend, they had an animated conversation about imbedding microchips in football players to gather new data that could be used to make better player predictions when creating fantasy football line-ups. Andrea enjoys being playful in conversation, "Threading and letting your imagination run wild. Especially at a happy hour, you don't want to be too buttoned up."
You can also talk about your own experience. Try threading off something that's happened recently and tie it back to your own story. For example, on a recent rainy day when NYC was poised to get another hurricane, Andrea mentioned Hurricane Sandy. That got people to open up about how they were impacted by the storm, great stories that lead to long conversations.
Andrea likes asking people about things they're proud of and watch them light up. "You'll never have a dull conversation if you talk about something they're passionate about." If it's something you don't know much about, it's a great opportunity to learn more. And if you share their interest, you might have just found yourself a new activity partner.
If you're looking for a job, feel free to mention it at some point; just don't lead with it. It's better to build a connection first.
Andrea's networking is paying off already. In fact, later today she has a meeting with a Marketing Manager from a global package delivery service who she met at networking event!
Photo credits: Angry Mob, Robert Couse Baker, Flickr, CC by 2.0; Hurricane Sandy Flooding Avenue C 2012, David Shankbone, Flickr, CC by 2.0