Many people suck at face-to-face business networking. I do. However, I thought to myself that there must be networking tips and tricks out there to make the process easier and more enjoyable. After all, there are so many benefits of networking that it is worth the effort of trying to get better at it.
When networking, the most important thing is to be remembered as a genuine, friendly and helpful person, right? If people remember you, they will be more likely to answer your emails and pick up the phone when you call.
Something else to bear in mind is that networking is not a numbers game. It’s not about whoever collects the most business cards wins. It’s about finding people you enjoy talking to, people you feel will be worth building a business relationship with. If you make one really good connection at a meetup or event, then it was a success.
So, after digging around on the Internet for a while (and adding my own ideas and insights), I composed a list of 41 of the most awesome, effective and guaranteed-to-boost-your-confidence networking tips I could find. Some are pretty logical. Others are inspiring. And still, others are a little off-beat. Oh, and check out the bonus content at the end.
I sincerely hope that this list of networking tips will help you enjoy networking more so that you can grow your network into a valuable business asset.
That said, let’s get to the list of networking tips, trick, and hacks;
Networking Tip 1. The Most Important of All the Networking Tips – Network Everywhere
Networking tip number one – and arguably the most important tip – is network everywhere.
Networking should not only be done at networking or business events. Networking is about the meeting, connecting with and helping people. You can do this everywhere; at the gym, on a plane, in the queue at the grocery store or your bank. In fact, many small business owners receive inquiries and even new business from these casual connections.
You can do it at any time. It doesn’t have to be formal and you shouldn’t have to put your “networking hat” on to meet people.
Meeting people is just meeting people. You only need to think about relationship-building later, when the people you meet have shown a willingness to stay in touch with you and to help you in return for you helping them. Not everyone you meet will want to do this. But the more people you meet, the more will want to network with you in the future.
Networking Tip 2. Stand Up Straight
If you grew up like me, this networking tip is exactly the same one that your mother gave when you were slouching. A good posture is important because it says a lot about you and is one of the most important criteria that others will use to form their initial subconscious impression of you.
According to Dr. Jordan Peterson, in his book “12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos”, standing up straight with your shoulders back will enhance your status in the eyes of others. It has something to do with lobsters, which we won’t get into right now.
Networking Tip 3. Make Sure You Have a Killer LinkedIn Profile
Whoever you meet will most probably look you up on LinkedIn after the meeting, especially if you gave them your business card, so make sure your profile is up-to-date and stellar. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, set one up. It’s free.
So, how do you write a “killer” LinkedIn profile?
Start by identifying who you are appealing to and framing your accomplishments, abilities, and experience in terms that would appeal to them. So, instead of saying “I was Sales Manager at XYZ Company for five years”, you could reframe it to say “I managed a team of five sales professionals for five years, during which time I was able to motivate my team to increase company sales by 15% per year “.
Here are a few other profile-enhancing tips;
- Invest in a decent profile photo. It may cost a bit to have it done professionally, but you can use it in all of your social media profiles. Remember, people who see your photo will use it to make assumptions about you, so make it speak for you.
- Take time to craft an interesting headline. Include keywords and what you want to become known for.
- Include several achievements in the “Summary” text box. People who are searching for people like you want to know what you have achieved in the past as an indicator of what you are likely to achieve in the future.
- Add images and documents. This makes it interesting and offers more depth to your profile.
- List only relevant work experience. You don’t have to include that you worked at McDonald’s when you were a teenager if you are in the market for a senior sales position.
- Fill in as much of your profile as possible. Partially complete profiles suggest you lack follow-through.
- Include links and recommendations.
Networking Tip 4. Dress for Success
You know the old adage “clothes maketh the (wo)man.” Well, it’s true.
It is important to look professional, but it depends on who you are going to be meeting as to how you dress. If you are attending an event at which you will be meeting diplomats and business leaders, wear a nice suit.
However, if you are meeting small business owners and entrepreneurs in a more informal environment, smart casual should suffice. You want to look casual enough to be approachable.
Whatever you wear should be clean, pressed and of decent quality. Remember also to accessorize; a quality watch, cuff-links, and tie pin, if you are a man, or elegant watch and understated earrings, if a woman, rounds off an ensemble, whether you are in a business suit or dressed smart casual.
If you receive an invitation, you may find the dress code listed. If not, and you are unsure of how you should dress, contact the event organizer to find out. You don’t want to be the only person in a suit at an event where everyone is in smart casual.
Dressing is like many other things in that you should experiment with different styles and colors and see what feedback you get. Over time, you can create a personal style that will contribute to your personal brand.
Networking Tip 5. Try to Find Out Who Will Be Attending
Let’s face it, you attend events to improve your network, and so you should be making the most of the opportunity by planning who you want to network with. Don’t leave it to chance if you can possibly avoid it.
If the networking event you will be attending has been arranged on a website like meetup.com or some other networking platform, you may be able to see at least a few of the people who will be attending. If the event has its own website, you may be able to find out who some attendees are, especially the anchor personalities if there any.
If not, try searching for hashtags relating to the event on Twitter and Instagram, which may show people who are discussing the event.
If you can find the names of even a few of the people who will be at the event, you can spend a little time looking for information about them online, especially on LinkedIn as well as on their business websites or blogs.
Doing this allows you to create a “hit list” of select people who you think would make a good addition to your existing network, without having to use a “hit-and-miss” process of talking to everyone you can in the hopes of running into a good prospective connection.
At the event, try to focus on meeting the “hit list” people first and it makes a great impression if you know something about the person when you do meet them.
If you are able to discover who some of the people at the event are, you may even take the chance of sending them a message (through LinkedIn for example) saying that you too will be attending the event and you hope to be able to meet them or even arranging a meeting.
This turns the event into a meeting with the possibility of some connecting afterward instead of a networking event only. It helps remove some of the stress of attending.
Networking Tip 6. Leave Home Early
Leave for the event early, especially if it’s somewhere you haven’t been before. It will take time to find your way to the venue and, especially if you are driving yourself, you don’t know where available parking will be and how far you will have to walk to the event.
Even if you have been to the venue before, leave time for traffic jams and accidents.
Leaving early will allow you to relax on your way to the event and to run through some of these networking tips.
Networking Tip 7. Arrive Early
Arriving early allows you to meet others who arrive early and since there are typically only a few people awkwardly standing around, waiting for the event to begin, it makes striking up a conversation that much easier.
Networking Tip 8. Name Tag Time
Before you fill your name tag, be sure to look at the way that others at the vent have filled theirs out. You’ll feel like a right ‘nana if you write out your full name if everyone else is just using their first name and vice versa.
Networking Tip 9. Name Association Hack
If you want to – and if there’s space – write a memorable or funny word association below your that people can use to remember you. Try to include something about your appearance and/or occupation or company.
By doing this, you do the hard part for those you meet and make yourself memorable. Again, it depends on the type of event and the caliber of people you will be mingling with as to whether or not you do this.
So, if your name is Phil, let’s say, and you work for an oil company like Shell, you can use “Phil-’em-up”.
Or if your name is Sally and you are an accountant, you can write “Salary Sally”.
Granted, some names are easier to do this with than others but try it out on colleagues and friends to see what works and what doesn’t.
You can try the same thing to remember other people’s names. And because you don’t have to tell them what the word association is, it can be silly, funny or even lewd.
Networking Tip 10. Prepare Your Business Cards
Make sure to put a few business cards somewhere in easy reach, so that at an opportune time, you can quickly and easily take one out without rummaging around in your pockets, bag or wallet.
Networking Tip 11. Wear Something Noteworthy
This hack has been known to work well, especially for people who find it difficult approaching strangers to start a conversation. I first heard about it from a video about the way Evan Carmichael approaches networking, enticing people to come up to and start talking to him. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAPySGLL3gg by Charisma on Command. Really worth a watch.
You have to be careful here as you don’t want to come off as unprofessional or silly. So, clown outfits are out! However, wearing a shirt (even a high-quality T-shirt) with a thought-provoking or mysterious slogan or phrase on it might do the trick. This will only work with suitable crowds and you need to be careful to use this idea sparingly.
If you don’t want to take too much of a risk, you might consider wearing an interesting lapel pin or other conversation-sparking trinket. It should be big enough to be visible, but not so big so as to be garish.
Although there is a lot of talk about cultural appropriation these days, you might consider wearing a traditional piece of clothing from your culture if your family originates from somewhere outside of the West. The loose “Madiba” shirts worn by Nelson Mandela, for example, or the traditional Chinese changshan (men’s shirt) or cheongsam (dress) would set you apart and could spark conversation. However, if you like the clothing style and want to wear it but it is not from your culture, be aware that you may get disapproving looks or comments from attendees. My experience with this is that this is only really an issue in Western countries.
Networking Tip 12. Make an Entrance
For extroverts (or those who can pull off acting extroverted) only! I have taken a few ideas from this article.
Before entering, try to take a look at the venue. Survey the “lay of the land” , where the bar and/or food tables are, where any recognizable VIPs are and whether or not any friends or acquaintances are present. This way, you know where to move once you enter. There is nothing more embarrassing than making an entrance only to trip down some stairs or walk in the wrong direction and have to retrace your steps.
Do not be late. No matter how “fashionable” it is, being late demonstrates only that you are unreliable.
When you feel ready, stride confidently into the venue before pausing for a moment to look over the people around you as if sizing them up.
Some (hopefully many) will notice you at this point and so your body language is of utmost importance. You need to appear confident yet relaxed, as if you are in complete control of the room. Be sure to smile.
After a moment, move purposefully towards an acquaintance, a friend or, if you don’t know anyone there, move to the bar.
If you feel particularly brave and you know who the VIPs or “heavy-hitters” in the room are, find one that is across the room from you and stride confidently toward them. When you reach them, introduce yourself to them and those around them and insert yourself into their conversation.
Pulling off an “entrance” will get you noticed and will help you speak to almost anyone in attendance. But be aware that it can backfire. Some people may view you as a braggart. Use it wisely.
Networking Tip 13. Connect Up, Down and Sideways
You want your network to be as diverse as possible. To that end, don’t focus only on the mentor or thought-leader types. While they are useful to have as part of your network, it’s just as useful to have a VA, a plumber and a florist in your network.
Networking Tip 14. Approach the Loners
If there are people on the outskirts of the action, standing in the corner or near the door, try to approach them. You never know who they are or what they have to offer. And like many people, they are most probably shy or antisocial.
Remember that a lot of really important or influential people, especially in the tech sector, are introverted and don’t like meeting people. The person standing by themselves in the corner may be a genius who just created the next Facebook.
However, be prepared to do a bulk of the talking initially. It takes shy people longer to open up. Ask questions and try to find something in common with them, if possible.
The fact that they are at a networking event or meetup means that on some level they want to meet new people – even if their boss forced them to attend. And you taking the time to talk to them might give them a real confidence boost. However, they will almost always appreciate you taking the time to talk to them.
Networking Tip 15. Location, Location, Location
When you are at a networking event, don’t stand near the door, hoping to catch people as they walk in. According to Vanessa Van Edwards of scienceofpeople.com, arriving people want a few moments to acclimatize to their new environment, which is especially important as it is stressful to many of them.
The best place to stand is where people leave the bar. At this time, they have a drink in hand and are ready to start networking.
If there is food, do not stand where people leave the buffet with their food. It’s the opposite of approaching people leaving the bar. The reason for this is that their hands will be full and they will be wanting to find a place to set their food down.
Instead, either strike up a conversation in the buffet queue or ask to join people at tables.
Networking Tip 16. Doing Lines
If you happen to be in a line (whether at an event of just in the wider world), striking up a conversation is so much easier than in the general fray. What is more, you can continue the conversation once you have secured your drinks and/or nibbles.
Networking Tip 17. Get to the Point
When it’s your turn to introduce yourself, do so succinctly. Tell them exactly who you are, what you do and why you are at the event. You should do this in three or four sentences at the most.
Networking Tip 18. Remember the Name
Yes, you need to have eye contact and shake hands with a firm grip – but more importantly, you need to remember the other person’s name. If you can, try to repeat their name a few times as you start to talk to them.
“Hi, I’m Steve.”
“Hi Steve, I’m Amy.”
“So, Amy, what brings you to this meetup?”
“Well, Steve, I found it online … on trepspace.com, and I thought I’d attend.”
Obviously, you don’t want to repeat their name too many times or it will sound labored.
Why is this important? People put a lot of value in their name as it is a cornerstone of their identity. So, when you use their name, you show respect and consideration.
Networking Tip 19. Smile
There is a reason we smile when we meet new people – it makes us look friendly and puts them at ease. It should go without saying that you should smile when approaching new people at a networking event.
One quick note here is that I would suggest discreetly checking your smile in a mirror or even just a reflective surface, especially if you have been eating at the event. You don’t want to be showing off your pearly whites with a piece of food “debris” prominently displayed.
Networking Tip 20. Listen
Let the people you meet talk. Ask questions to encourage them to open up. This doesn’t mean that you must not speak. It is a conversation, after all. Answer their questions and open up a little, but do not hog the interaction.
Most people have trouble really listening. They are too busy thinking of what to say next. But if you surrender wanting to talk about yourself, you will be able to focus on what the other person is saying. And that is the key to being able to find common ground and shared values; the very foundation of good business relationships.
Networking Tip 21. Tilt Your Head and Maintain Eye Contact
According to Vanessa Van Edwards of scienceofpeople.com, tilting your head slightly is universal body language for “I’m listening”.
And, of course, try to maintain eye contact – or at least look at the face of the person you are speaking to. There’s nothing worse than regaling a person whose eyes are languidly wandering around the room. It screams boredom louder than a five-year-old on a road trip.
Networking Tip 22. Prepare a “Parachute” Phrase or Topic
It might sound weird, but if you are someone who often experiences conversation dead spaces – those silences that make you panic inwardly – it might be worth preparing an emergency phrase or topic that you can pull out of the hat to rescue you from total embarrassment.
Networking Tip 23. Ask Questions
You can draw people out and find out a lot about them by asking the right questions. You need to be careful about appearing too intrusive, but by asking questions you can get even introverted people talking.
It’s important to ask a few questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” as possible. Rather, ask questions that require an explanation.
So, instead of asking,
“Do you like your job?”
“What are the best and worst parts of your job?”
Networking Tip 24. Get Personal
Sprinkle some personal details into your conversations to help humanize the interaction. However, stay away from religion, politics, personal trauma, disease, deadbeat relatives and other negative subject matter.
Also, keep personal anecdotes short. Do not launch into a detailed, blow-by-blow description of your week-long vacation to Cancun last year. Unless they expressly tell you they are interested, the people you are talking to most probably aren’t.
Networking Tip 25. Contribute, Offer, Give
This is a one of the most important networking tips I could give.
If you hit it off with the person you have met, find out what they are struggling with. Then try to find a way to offer something that will help them solve their problem.
Perhaps it is something you can do for them. If it’s small and doesn’t cost anything but a little time, offer to do it for free. That will start the process of reciprocity nicely. Or perhaps you know someone who might be able to help them. If so, offer to put them in touch with your connection.
The more you help others, the stronger your connection will be and the more likely the other person will be to return the favor.
Networking Tip 26. Be Authentic
Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. You are networking to find people with whom you can sow the seeds of long term relationships. Being disingenuous is a surefire way to destroy the longevity of your networking relationships as it removes trust from the equation – and no decent relationship can be built without trust.
Networking Tip 27. Find Their Joy
Everyone has a subject that they love to talk about.
Perhaps it’s their job or business, perhaps their home city or country, perhaps their hobby or a sport (or sports team) or their family or pets. Try to ask questions that will expose their “joy” and when you find it let them talk about it – even (and especially) if it has nothing to do with business.
You are building a relationship so you need to get to know them, to find out what makes them “tick”. The business will come later.
Obviously, if their monologue drags on too long, you may need to try to
And if you can find their “joy”, this will give you an amazingly convenient reason to contact them later on.
Networking Tip 28. Never, Never, Never Sell
This should be an obvious networking tip, but never try to sell anything to new acquaintances. No-one likes to be sold.
Networking Tip 29. Introduce People to One Another
One of the secret networking tips that master networkers use to impress others is to introduce people to one another. This doesn’t only mean referring the people you meet to others in your network after the event, but it’s also something you can do at the event – even if you didn’t know anyone there when you walked in.
When you meet someone and chat to them, try to make a note (mental or otherwise) of what they do and what they are interested in. AS you meet more people, try to find commonalities between them and those you have previously met.
If you meet someone who has a common interest as another person you have met at the event, or if they need something that another person at the event can provide, then try to introduce them.
Many people spend their time trying to think of what to say next or how to get something out of the person they are talking to. They should be listening to them and looking for commonalities.
Networking Tip 30. Act Approachable
Don’t look at your phone or hang out in the corner staring at your drink or plate of snacks. If you are not talking to anyone, look around. Smile a little. Try to act relaxed.
Networking Tip 31. Make Notes
When finishing a conversation, find a quiet spot to make notes about the person you were just talking to. If you can, use the back of their card, as you won’t get mixed up as to who is who when you are collating the information collected at the event afterward.
You may also consider using your phone to record audio notes about the people you meet, although the ambient noise in most events will most probably make doing this pretty much impossible.
Networking Tip 32. Thank the Organizer
This is one of those networking tips that many people overlook.
If you can find out who the organizer of the event was, take the time to send a personal thank you note to them thanking them for organizing such a great event.
They are more likely than not well-connected and you never know what might come from such a gesture. Obviously, don’t expect anything, but showing respect and thankfulness will leave a good impression of you.
Networking Tip 33. Record the Details of Who You Met
Use a CRM, spreadsheet or even just a stack of index cards to transcribe all the information you can about everyone you met at the event.
Organize the information so that you can cycle through the names on a regular basis to catch up with each contact in some sort of order. You can make notes about how you corresponded with them, what you said and how they replied.
You could also look at including a private rating system for the quality of the connection – perhaps a rating of 1 to 5, with each contact starting with 5 stars.
If the interaction is one-sided (i.e. you are doing all the work/giving), drop their rating by one star. Keep trying until it reaches 0 stars – then cut them from your network.
Networking Tip 34. Send a Thank You Note
After you meet and connect someone, send a thank you note (an email is okay but a hand-written note is even better) to express your appreciation for their time and to suggest you keep in contact.
Keep it short and simple and don’t seem too needy.
Networking Tip 35. Schedule a Follow-Up
And then schedule a follow up in your diary for two months or so. As your relationships mature, you can push this out a little, but initially, you should be getting in touch with new contacts often enough that they remember who you are.
When the date rolls around, spend some time re-looking at their profiles, website and (especially) any recent news relating to them. Send them an email and try to get a conversation going to find out what they are working on and whether or not there is any way you can help them.
It may take a few months of conversations before they open up enough to tell you what they are struggling with, but as long as you stay in touch with them, you will eventually get an opportunity to help them.
Networking Tip 36. Connect on LinkedIn
If you had a good conversation with them at the event, they will hopefully reach out with a connection request on LinkedIn so that you can connect. This means that you will be able to follow them easily and have access to a lot of their business information. You will also be able to send them messages.
If your profile has been set up properly, there is a good chance that they will want to connect.
If you do not receive a connection request from them, then send a request of your own. Make sure to change the default text of the connection request to remind them who you are and where and when you met.
Networking Tip 37. Don’t Be Disheartened
It happens that people you meet at networking events don’t return your calls or messages, even though you hit it off by all accounts. Don’t waste your time pursuing their attention. If they are not interested in staying in contact, move on.
It can be disappointing and make you feel like you wasted your time, but don’t let it make you jaded. You will find more people will want to stay in touch than not if they feel you are trustworthy and genuine.
Networking Tip 38. Use Your Business Card
You should have decent business cards and if you are creative in any way, you can create a card that will be a conversation piece in its own right.
There are many interesting ways to turn a business card into something interesting without having to pay a fortune. Obviously, it depends on your industry and budget, but business cards can be a great ice breaker and can do a lot of the work of being memorable for you.
Take a look at some of these resources for some creative business card ideas;
https://mymodernmet.com/cool-business-card-ideas/ (Some are similar to those above)
You can search online for more ideas. There are plenty.
Networking Tip 39. Showing Off Your Products
If you produce or sell something small, how about showing it off when you are meeting others? This is especially handy if you are in fashion or accessories, eyewear or electronics. Make sure to wear something you sell to get people to talk about it. If you sell underwear, this may present a problem, however.
If you are a caterer, baker or confectioner, you might consider creating and packaging small snacks that you can hand out packaged with your business card (or a sticker with your contact details on it).
Florists can hand out small flowers with their cards.
Garden services can hand out small packets of seeds with their business cards attached.
Networking Tip 40. Using Your Phone
Don’t take calls or check for messages at events.
Set it to airplane mode.
Use your phone only to take photos, if you are going to, or as a voice recorder to record audio notes about people you meet.
That said, I have heard that some people use the following interesting networking tips; when chatting to someone who gives them a business card, the protagonist apologizes and claims that they don’t use business cards (or simply that they don’t have any for some or other reason).
They then ask if they get the other person’s phone number so that they can stay in touch by SMS – along with an assurance that they won’t bother them, perhaps. If the other person agrees, the protagonist enters their phone number into their phone, sends a quick “hiya” message with their name and email address or whatever, and voila! They now have access to the other person. It’s a ballsy move but apparently, it works a lot of the time.
Networking Tip 41. A Picture Says a Thousand Words
If you hit it off with someone, ask if you can take a “selfie” with them and offer to send it to them. This way you get their cellphone number and the other person gets yours. Add a short message about who you are when you send it.
Ask if it would be okay to put the picture of the two of you on your business social media page but assure them that it would be fine if they didn’t want you to.
Networking Tip 42. Keep Up to Date with Technology
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that unforeseen events out of our control can quite suddenly up-end the way we live. This has been quite evident in the world of networking. Suddenly, face-to-face networking has become impossible, leaving millions of business people all around the world frantically trying to figure out how to network remotely.
Luckily, platforms like Zoom and, later, Run the World, have made it possible to network more effectively than just sending messages on LinkedIn – although, without the option of face-to-face events, most prolific networkers have found themselves feeling hemmed in. Check out this article for more networking platforms if you are looking for options.
An important take-away from this experience is to keep exploring new networking options and to never put all your eggs in one basket. Try to think outside the box and keep an eye out for new platforms and technologies that are as “lockdown-proof”.
As you can see, it’s all about technique.
Put some of these networking tips, tricks and hacks into practice the next time you have to network. Try different ones out and see which ones work for you. The main thing is to put in the effort. If you do, I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Here’s to your networking success!
BONUS Networking Tip: Killer Conversation Openers
Most people struggle with starting conversations. They don’t want to say anything mundane or “lame” as they will just come across as an idiot. Here are a few great ideas from Vanessa Van Edwards’ website about ways to open a conversation in an awesome way;
- Tell me about you.
- What’s your story?
- What personal passion project are you working on right now.
- Working on anything exciting lately?
- How do you know the host?
- Have you been to an event like this before?
- What was the highlight of your day today?
- What was the highlight of your week?
- What was the high-point and low-point of your day so far?
- Is this your busy season? Is this a busy time for you?
You can then continue the conversation with the following;
- What are you doing this weekend…what’s your favorite thing to do on the weekends?
- What are your favorite restaurants around here?
- Keeping up with __sport__ recently?
- Can you recommend any unique cocktails here?
- All the food looks so good… I’m not sure what to get! What are you thinking? Or what have you tried?
- What a beautiful/cool/ugly/bizarre venue. Have you been here before?
- Did you see that viral ____ YouTube video? It was all over my social media today.
Once you have made conversation with them for a while, you can try to go deep. This is where you need to be brave and reach out to find out who the person you are talking to really is. Try a few of these ideas, if you want to really connect;
- What’s your biggest fear?
- If you had to pick any character in a book, movie or TV show who is most similar to you, who would you choose? Why?
- What’s your biggest regret?
- When you were growing up what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?
And here are a few additional ones from https://www.themuse.com/advice/30-brilliant-networking-conversation-starters;
- What’s your favorite conversation starter at a networking event?
- Excuse me. Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice! Hi, I’m Andi. Nice to meet you.
- “I just came for these carrot sticks.” Then, ask a question, like “How’d you hear about this event?”
- So, on a scale of 1 to undrinkable, how terrible is the Chardonnay?
- I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?
- If there is one question you do not want me to ask you because you are sick and tired of answering it, what question would that be?
- I’m working on a blog article about the best and worst conversation starters ever. Any particularly good or terrible ones you’ve heard tonight?