I spent two years hustling as a newspaper journalist, writing and editing a daily business networking page in our metro paper’s business section. I lugged my laptop and notebooks across downtown to morning coffees and lunch-and-learns and late night galas, zipping from suburb to suburb to cover the 5 p.m. after-hours networking events. I sipped soda out of little plastic cups and shook all the hands and snapped awkward photos and decorated my cubicle with towers of business cards I collected.
(Speaking of business cards, Minted gave me some gorgeous foil-pressed cards to take to Influence Conference ANNNNND we’re giving away a $50 credit to the Minted printed shop so you can get some stunning business cards or prints or holiday cards of your own — keep reading!)
During my time in the networking world, I navigated seas of elevator speeches and listened two-minute pitches and waded through e-mails asking for features.
But most of all, I learned quickly that authentic networking is more We’re in this together and less What can you do for me?.
When we collaborate and connect in authentic and engaging ways, big things happen. As women, we’re taught to tuck away our gifts and talents. But when we’re brave enough to share our stories? It illuminates the room, and others can’t help but glow, too.
I’m not sure any of us can ever really call ourselves networking experts, but here are a few tricks and tips I’ve picked up along the way to help you tell your story and engage others to form brilliant collaborations and connections. I met Ashley, the founder of #fireworkpeople, at the Influence Conference and I’m so thankful for the team of women across the she is building up and encouraging to chase their dreams. I’m joining forces with her network of writers, thinkers, encouragers, dreamers, and doers to share my tips for authentic networking.
5 tips for authentic networking
- Ask questions. And then genuinely listen to, and care about, the answers. When you meet someone, whether it’s at a networking event or in line at a coffee shop, don’t instantly make it about you. Fight the urge to be a Me Monster! I’ve found that most folks are happy to share their stories, if they’re asked. Chatting with someone whose business you admire? Ask her what her most exciting project is right now. Engage. See what she’s passionate about, and go from there. Networking isn’t about selling yourself, it’s about connecting with others. And sometimes all it takes to get sparks flying is a question or two.
- Relax. I know, meeting new people can be awkward. I like diffusing awkward situations with a little humor, but we all have different ways that make introducing ourselves and tip-toeing out of our comfort zones a little easier. Take a deep breath and just do it. You know that cheesy quote that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take? There’s truth to that cliche. Give yourself a pep-talk, take a deep breath, and make a joke about how you had to try all the appetizers because free food, you guys.
- Go all in. Be present. I always tell my sons (4 and 18 months) to give me “good eyes” when we’re talking. Eye contact helps me know they’re listening. Body language matters. When you’re networking, put away your phone (unless it’s to follow your new friend on Instagram!) and give them your attention. Whoever you’re talking to, go all in. Even if you chat for two minutes, be fully present for those two minutes. Let’s throw in another cliche, shall we? You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
- Share your stories. You have something only you can bring to the table. Avoid “yes” or “no” answers and add a little color to the conversation. I know, easier said than done, right? Be honest and be you — people will remember that. Her: I like your bag! You: Thanks! I ordered it at a blogging conference I went to in Chicago. Her: Oh, my husband went to college in Chicago You: Whenever I’m there, I load up on Intellegista coffee. Are you fans? Her: Oh, definitely — we’re actually planning a fall trip in a couple weeks and plan to stock up! (See why you should always answer with a little story instead of a yes or no? Also why you should always talk about coffee because if people you’re networking with don’t like coffee, you’re just wasting your time. I kid, I kid.)
- Have an amazing business card. It’s great if you hit it off with some potentially stellar connections, but what happens when folks have no way of reaching you? In the digital age, business cards have evolved, but they’re definitely not obsolete. How to create a card that doesn’t end up at the bottom of a purse or in a pile on someone’s desk?
Pick a design (I like this one and this one) that coordinates with your personal style and aesthetic. (I can’t recommend Minted’s beautiful, high-quality designs enough!) Keep fonts to a minimum and stay consistent. Everyone opts for white — why not pick a pattern or bold color? (I chose black with gold foil-press on my latest Many Sparrows cards.)
Add your social media information. Make sure it’s easy to read. In my demographic, friends care more about connecting on Instagram than calling a phone number. Pick and choose what works for you.
Add a photo! Choose a photo that looks like you and conveys your personality. Minted has the option to add a photo on the back of the card, and I totally did that. A photo, even a small one, helps others remember you long after the networking event is done. (If you’re like me and mess up on the first draft, their team of designers will help and you will be like OMG THANK YOU.)
Hand ’em out! Don’t forget to give your cards away — and remember to snag a card from your new friend, too. Follow up within a week with an e-mail, friendly tweet, or Facebook message.
We’re better when we’re together. I say it all the time, but we’re not meant to do life alone. We live free when we link arms with each other and brainstorm and collaborate and encourage? When we run our races and we realize that we’re chasing after the same goal? That’s the heart of authentic networking. (And if you’re new here — hey! Let’s connect!)
Now, let’s get you on track with some Minted swag, shall we? I’ll draw a winner Monday — good luck!
This part of 31 daily posts of living free. Living freely is something we do momentarily, but to fully live free? That’s a transformation — a total change not only in what we’re like, but in who we are. You can find all the 31 Days of Living Free posts here. Disclosure: Minted provided my business cards and affiliate links are used when applicable.