The Courage to Network: Four Simple Steps
Being confident in a new environment doesn’t always come naturally. The ability to network and meet with new people becomes easier with time and experience, but what about when you’re just starting out? Or starting over? How can you quickly begin to ingratiate yourself and build up rapport?
As someone working in Business Development, I want to share my top tips with you.
1. Do your homework.
The organizers of large networking events will often publish a list of registered attendees. Use this information to see which companies will be present and then take some time to learn a little bit about those businesses. You don’t need to become an expert, but having a few talking points can put any on-the-spot jitters at ease and people will perceive you as prepared, intelligent and engaged.
2. Set your Intentions.
Don’t have access to the attendee list? No problem. Consider points such as the venue location, timing of the event, and any theme that may be attached and put together a list of companies you hope to run into. It’s amazing what can happen when you write down your intentions. If even one of the representatives from a company you’re hoping to interact with is there, you will be prepared to speak with them – and you can even let them know how happy you are to see them at the event.
The same homework applies for your first week in a new workplace. Review the LinkedIn profiles of a few of the people you’ll be working with. See what they’re interested in and what projects they’re working on so you can share an experience you personally have had in that domain (a bit more about the importance of sharing in point 3, below). You will impress your colleagues with your thoughtfulness because, let’s be honest, we are all flattered when people take the time to get to know us.
3. Remember that sharing is caring.
Think about a time when someone shared with you. Whether it was a story, an experience, or a basket of muffins for the office, how did it make you feel?
Very likely, the action of sharing helped form a connection with that person and created a positive association. Consider a way you can share with someone you’re meeting for the first time. Don’t worry that the share has to be something grandiose. People connect over the smallest, strangest things every day. It could be a podcast you’re listening to, or your excitement over a festival that’s coming to town, or how you just tried a great new restaurant. Want to make it less personal and more work-specific? Talk about an interesting project you’re working on, or your experience with a product that the person you’re talking to sells, or a conference you’re looking forward to attending. As you share, it will help the other person see you as an open individual, and will result in them opening up to you, too.
There are boundaries of course. You want the act of sharing to remain positive, not associate you with anything that has an ick factor. And remember, there is difference between sharing and selling. Sharing means you care enough to open up to the other person, while selling at a networking event or as soon as you walk in the door at your new job, closes people off because this act feels like it’s all about you.
4. Make smiling your favourite. But not in a weird way.
When you visit a friend or family member’s home, do you ever look at the doormat on your way in? What do the most inviting ones say? Usually it’s some version of “Welcome.” And what do the less inviting doormats say? “Go Away! No flyers!”
Now, think of yourself as a home and your face as the doormat (bear with me and this strange analogy). What impression do you want to give when meeting new people? If your goal is to connect, one of the simplest ways of creating a welcoming vibe is to simply smile. Be the “Welcome” mat. It really does put people at ease. But don’t force it! Remember that inauthenticity is your enemy in any setting so if you’re not naturally someone who walks around with extreme joy radiating out of your face, that’s ok.
Be yourself, relax a bit, and when you walk up to talk to someone, introduce yourself with a handshake and a pleasant expression.
Above all else, try to enjoy the process of meeting new people. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but with some practice and time, you’ll be handling these situations like a pro.
Bonus: For all the UBC alumni out there, I’d like to leave you with a little bonus. If during the homework step you discover you might be meeting with fellow UBC grads, you can share with them the perks and benefits available through alumni UBC, your alumni association. There are deals on travel, shopping, car sharing, theatre and sports tickets, financial services…the list goes on and on. View the full list of benefits available to you, as well family and friends of UBC alumni.
If you want to learn more or put your networking skills into practice, join us for our webinar “Network with Style” on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 or our in-person Speed Networking: Connecting job seekers with Industry Professionals on Wednesday, October 16 from 6:00-9:00 pm. Register here.
Happy sharing (and happy networking)!
Jenna McCann, BA'03, is a business development, sales and marketing professional based in Vancouver, BC. She specializes in connecting brands to consumers, driving sales, and growing partnerships. She prides herself on always finding a way forward and, respectfully, does not take no for an answer. She is a positive and driven person and believes there is always a way to a yes!
In her current role, Jenna and her team are proud to be recognized as the number one university affinity, benefits and services program provider in Canada. While presently focused on business development, she has a background in alumni engagement, philanthropy and customer service.
Outside of work, Jenna loves spending time with her husband and two children. She is a proud soccer, baseball and dance mom and when not acting as chauffeur, enjoys piano, yoga, and getting outside to enjoy all that the beautiful west coast of BC has to offer.