The art of networking looks different for every person. Whether you are at ease during a networking event or find networking intimidating, whether you plan your time meticulously or “wing it,” there is basic networking etiquette that transcends personalities and prep styles.
As you’re working toward your networking objectives, keep in mind these simple niceties for productive, engaging conversations:
Quality over Quantity
One common networking misconception is that the more business cards or people you talk to, the more successful your networking experience is. It might feel good to add a big stack of business cards to your desk drawer, but multiple superficial conversations may not be as valuable as a few in-depth conversations. Instead of setting a business card quota, focus on meeting those you would like to connect with and enjoy a conversation with them.
Are you accidentally sending the wrong signals? Broken eye contact, scanning the room, and spending time on your phone while talking with someone are conspicuous signs you’re not very interested in what someone has to say. And if there’s any such thing as a secret ingredient to successful networking, it’s listening. If you must be on your phone or if you are planning to meet with someone, recognize that it might not be the best time to engage in conversation.
Ask Good Questions
One of the best networking skills is the ability to ask questions, find out more about someone, and determine if you could build a relationship or leverage the connection in the future. Make this part easier by preparing a mental list of questions you can ask. And remember, the best questions are not always related to work!
Be Mindful of Other’s Time
Time is the most valuable thing we have, and at networking events it can move particularly quickly. Be cognizant of whether you are monopolizing someone’s time and when you should exit a conversation. A helpful strategy in this situation is to come up in advance with a phrase that will let you politely pause the conversation while providing an opportunity to to suggest a follow-up in the near future.
Don’t be afraid to approach someone in the room who isn’t talking with others. Often the lonely person in the room appreciates a brief hello or opportunity to connect with others.
Follow-Up on Conversations and Commitments
If you end a conversation with a mutual understanding to continue it later, or if you offer to provide an introduction or connect someone to resources, make sure you follow through! Following up in a timely manner is essential for continuing the initial momentum and solidifying the connections you’ve made.
Madison Ray is a Program Coordinator at State Policy Network, serving on the operations team.