The AlphaBabe’s Guide to Networking

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BY MARYANN AKINBOYEWA

Let’s be real – the last thing you want to do after a long day at work is drag yourself to yet another networking event to interact with people you don’t know. While an AlphaBabe may be busy and perhaps a little nervous, she’s never afraid to put herself out there and network. She understands that great success takes great effort.

You’ll quickly find that your network is your net worth. Several of the jobs and internships I’ve landed have come from someone I have in my network. This isn’t a coincidence! People love doing business with people they know and trust. How can people get to know you and trust you if you don’t put yourself out there?

Here’s a quick guide for networking success:

A quick pep talk…

I know what you’re thinking: networking is so not your thing. Small talk is awkward and you’re nervous about attending events alone. You’d much rather lay on the couch sipping wine and watching Game of Thrones. I get it. Networking may not feel intuitive at first, but getting to know people is crucial to your professional and personal success. Remember, a successful AlphaBabe is one who is willing to step outside her comfort zone and plug into new experiences.

I see that in you.

For the AlphaBabes who are on the introverted side, give yourself a start and stop time. Every time I attend an event, I tell myself “two hours.” For me, this means I can’t leave until I spend at least two hours at the designated event. Setting an internal time clock will keep you from checking your watch during the event. It also gives you an excuse to leave when your designated time period is up.

Of course if you’re enjoying yourself, stay longer! But if you’re not, try to at least be there for your designated time period. The point is to teach yourself how to cope in these kinds of settings. In addition, you know internally what time frame you’ll have to be ‘on’ during.

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One misconception a lot of people have is that networking has to be stuffy. It’s time we rethink networking. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an organized happy hour. I frequently sign up for workshops, art and fitness classes in my city. I consider all of these as networking activities because they put me in front of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I personally prefer events where the participants have something to do (art, writing workshops, etc). I think this alleviates the stress of having to come up with something to talk about.

You can also check out niche networking groups. For example, in the Tampa Bay Area, I’m a part of a women-only networking group. The group brings together professional women. Each week, we have an array of events from professional development workshops to girls’ nights. The benefit of a niche group is that everyone usually has something in common, which makes the conversation much easier and natural.

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The night before a big networking event, I usually go online and Google who will be there. Sometimes I’ll even search on Twitter or Instagram to see who is talking about the event. If I notice someone interesting, I’ll try to note things about them like where they work, current projects, etc. This way, when I get to the event, I have a better understanding of who I may meet. It also gives me an opportunity to organize and prioritize people I definitely want to speak to.

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Sometimes you’ll find yourself at a networking event where you don’t know a soul. That’s OK! Relax. Deep breath. Walk in confidently. You’ll often hear “smile” as a networking tip. While you don’t need to walk around the event with a huge fake smile plastered across your face, you want to try to look ‘on.’

I’ve been to events where I’ve seen young professionals cower away in the corner with their iPhones. I’ve also seen people look like deer in headlights, unsure of what to do. You don’t want to be either of these people!

Generally, the question you will be asked is “What do you do?” It’s good to have a standard response prepared for that question because it’s one you’ll always get.

I’d recommend going prepared with 2-3 other questions that can get the conversation going. For example:

  • “How did you find out about this event?”/“What brought you to this event?”
  • “What projects are you currently working on at work?”
  • “What do you enjoy doing outside of work?”

You want to make sure you really listen to what other people are sharing with you. I’ve found that during networking events, people are often nervous and aren’t paying attention to what’s being said to them. Psst! People can tell when you’re not listening!

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If you end up striking up a good conversation with someone, be sure to exchange contact information and then follow up. I’ve had people connect with me on LinkedIn after networking events, but then I never hear from them again.

Once you follow up, try to find ways to maintain that new relationship. You can do this by agreeing to meet for coffee at a later date or by sharing articles, ideas, or something else you think your new contact would like.

Networking isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. You have to relax and find ways to make it enjoyable.

Your turn! What tips do you have for becoming a master networker?

 

Maryann Akinboyewa is an Alpha Babe in the making. She’s passionate about helping women succeed in work, life, and business.

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