How To Network: Tips For Before, During, And After

how to nail networking events

How To Network When You’re Shy

I know a lot of us get nervous or get fearful. I’m actually very introverted, believe it or not. I’m not a social person and sometimes get a little awkward. I really have to work hard, prepare, and force myself to be social and it’s not something that comes easy to me. So, I’m going to give you some of my tips on how to network in case you’re also in the same boat and it’s difficult for you to network.

Obviously, I don’t think I need to say this, but it’s very important that you are networking and attending networking events as business owners, as entrepreneurs, as maybe anybody that’s just in the fashion industry or trying to get into the fashion industry – it’s very important that you’re networking on a consistent basis. Networking is great for opportunities whether its job opportunities, just clients, customer opportunities, it’s great for referrals, it’s even just great to get business advice, general life advice, different perspectives on things, resources, connections – so there is a lot of really great benefits to networking. Therefore, you have to get outside of your comfort zone and go to some of these networking events, but definitely, you can overcome your fear and nervousness by proper preparation, obviously the right mindset, and the proper tools which I’m going to give you right now. So – let’s jump into how to network!

Your Pregame: How To Network Beforehand

1. You should be doing your homework. Look up some current events that are going on. Brush up on what’s going on in the world a little bit so that you can sound somewhat intelligent if that topic of conversation does come up. Also just think about in general: what’s going on in your business, what happened during that week, did you have a client success story or customer that loved one of your items, did you find a really great resource or tool that you can share with someone at the networking event or an app that you just discovered that’s awesome? Do a little bit of homework – read up on the people that are going to be at the event (it’s so easy to find out these days with social media and LinkedIn), you can almost always find out someone that’s going to be at the event, at the very least the host of the event or the speakers. Read up on them, find out what you might have common with them, and find out what similarities you might have that you can start to talk about when you do eventually talk to them.

2. Plan some easy questions to ask. It’s really great to have some questions in your back pocket that you can easily wipe out any time that work in almost every situation. So, here are ones that I like to use.

  • How did you hear about the event?
  • Where are you from or where do you live?
  • Have you read any good books recently?  
  • What’s your story?
  • How did you get involved in this field or career path?
  • What made you decide to do what you like to do?
  • What projects are you currently working on right now?
  • What’s coming next for you?

3. Plan your outfit. I think this is a little self-explanatory especially for all you fashionistas, but I’m going to mention it anyway. First impression is key and 55% of your first impression is based off of what you wear alone. It’s very sad, but true – we live in a materialistic world, and it’s very superficial. So, people are going to judge you based on what you’re wearing. Thus, you better look good and if you need some help definitely checkout the blog on my website called personal branding. If you need further help, definitely hire an image consultant because they can work with you and help you to really understand what colors work the best for you. In general, you want to wear colors that are low intensity contrast, that are very soft or muted. You don’t want to typically wear anything harsh, although I’ll say that I like to wear very bold bright colors when I go to networking events and part of the reason – one, it helps you to make you stand out and number two, it leaves a memorable impression. Therefore orange is a really great color to wear to a networking event because it’s very energetic and it creates connection. People are just naturally drawn to that color and it’s warm. Trust me, no one else will be wearing orange. The one color you do not want to wear, however, is black – and I know all of you women in New York love your black. For networking events, it’s not good because you come off as very authoritative, unapproachable, and people will not want to come up to you because they will be intimidated by you – so you just don’t want to wear black. Pick something that makes you feel good because the more confidence you have in this type of a situation where you already kind of feeling a little uneasy – you don’t know anyone, right – it’s definitely going to help you.

4. You want to have the right mindset. You don’t want to be looking at people like dollar signs or like they’re a piece of meat. You want to look at them like how can I serve you. I’m here to help. I’m not here to take, I’m here to give. One of the questions I always, always ask is how can I help you and people will be shocked. If you ask them that question, they will be totally thrown off. You mean, you don’t want to know what I do for a living, you would rather just help me? You’re not trying to get something from me? So, I always like to ask how can I help or what is it that you need right now in your business in order for you to move forward and really get down to the core of what their needs are and then how can you connect to them with people. You think of yourself as a connector – it’s your job to connect the dots. Therefore if someone is looking for a social media guru, you know someone, if someone is looking for a photographer, you know someone. So, how can you connect the dots and be that connector at the networking event, and of course over-deliver, add value, and try to think of this not as networking but more as collaborating.

5. Make sure you bring your business cards. Self-explanatory, but everyone always forgets their business cards and please have some kind of professional case to carry them in that looks nice. This will keep them protected, that way they won’t be damaged in your purse or have bent edges. This is very professional, and you definitely want to act professional.

How To Network During The Event

Now during the event, number one arrive early. Everyone wants to arrive late – they don’t be the first one there. They do not want to be sitting there twirling their thumbs, but I’ll explain why it’s actually better to arrive early. If you arrive early, no one has really formed their little clicks yet and their little groups. So, you can actually be the first one to talk to someone and form your own little group or clicks.

1. Body language. We already talked about 55% of your first impression being based off of your clothing. Now, 38% the next portion is actually based off of the body language. Body language is really super important. Number one, smile, believe it or not a smile on your face gets you a really long way at a networking event. Look people in the eye, shake their hands, don’t cross your arms – that kind of sends the message that you’re kind of being closed – don’t look at the floor, don’t look at your phone, and don’t start gazing off when someone is talking to you. You want to be attentive and show that you’re approachable and you want to talk to people.

2. Start the conversation. So, how do you start the conversation? I always say, don’t wait for someone to come up to you, just go up to them. Don’t be shy, just bite the bullet, be courageous, and go up to somebody. At a networking event, I always say try to find one person that’s alone or if there is not one person alone, try to find an odd numbered group. You don’t want to go up to a group where there are two people and then you’re the third person. Odd groups are better because one person in that group cannot be making eye contact at the same time. You can only connect your eyes with one other person. So, if there is an odd number, one person is technically not making eye contact with another and most likely one person is kind of outside of the conversation. You can then approach the group and join with that odd person. You want to be polite though – you don’t want to interrupt people or crash the conversation. Just politely ask, may I join you and usually they’re going to say yes and then everyone is going to go around and start introducing themselves.

3. Introduce yourself. As you introduce yourselves, say your first and your last name as you shake their hand. Believe it or not by saying your last name, you’re actually making yourselves sound more important. Also repeat that person’s name if you’re trying to memorize it, which you should be because it’s very important that you make people feel special, feel important, and they will remember if you remember their name. Trust me, because most people are bad at remembering names. You repeat their name immediately after meeting them and then try asking them a question to repeat their name another time. If you think you have a really hard time remembering their name, try to make it rhyme with something or create some kind of a visual pictorial image that will help you remember their name a little bit better. You can think of creative ways to remember people’s names and also compliments always works. Especially for women – women complimenting women is great. Obviously with men, you want to be a little careful – they might think you’re hitting on them and then obviously vice versa for men to compliment a woman.

4. Be careful with what you say. Since we talked about body language being the 38%, the other 7% is really what you say. Out of all three, what you’re wearing is actually the most important – 55% of the first impression – your body language is the second most important 38%, and really what you’re saying does not really matter. It’s 7% of the puzzle. Therefore, don’t get so hung-up on what you’re saying. Your body language and what you’re wearing is actually way more important. Now, during the conversation, try to let the other person speak first and you’ll actually benefit from this if it happens this way because most of the time whenever someone else is speaking, the other person is mentally in their minds subconsciously trying to think of what they’re going to say next. When you’re networking, you want that person’s undivided attention. So, in order to get their undivided attention, it’s great to have them go first, then they’re already done talking and by the time you start to talk, they’re not thinking about “oh, what am I going to say next” because they have already gone. They have already said their spill. So, if you can get the other person to talk first that will actually be good. Obviously good listening skills are really key here. I would say try to listen more than talk, try to have the other person talk more than you do, give that person your undivided attention, don’t be checking your cellphone, ask really thoughtful questions, and obviously make sure you’re not interrupting other people while they’re having a conversation.

5. Make it about them, not about you. Your job is to make people feel special. If someone feels special, they’re definitely going to remember you number one, and they’re going to want to repay you. They could repay you in a number of ways – by having coffee with you, by introducing you to somebody in their network, by setting up something for you, or you just never know how they’re going to repay you. So definitely, you want to make people feel special and don’t hijack the conversation and talk all about yourself. It’s all about them, not about you. How can you serve them, how can you help them? The more helpful you are, the more people will remember you and feel like they have to repay you.

6. Don’t hard sale. This is not a selling event, this is not sales. It’s about building relationships and people want to buy from people that they know, trust, and have a relationship with. Therefore, it’s very important that you build that relationship and it does not happen in a day. It’s like going up to somebody that you want to get married to and skipping the whole dating part and say, “hey want to get married tomorrow?” It does not happen that way, typically speaking. You have to date first. So, this is dating, this is the courting period, but it’s for a business relationship not a personal relationship.

7. Craft your story. You should have already kind of prepared your story ahead of time. You want to kind of have a little elevator pitch and also a little bit of a longer story that’s really a story – a story that you can tell that really shows your passion and shows how you got started with your business. Thus depending on the situation and how much time you have to tell someone, you want to be prepared. As a fashion designer, you want to have that 1-2 sentence statement that will evoke exactly what type of clothing you create that someone can picture in their mind. So, I should not have to guess what is it that you’re doing or be confused about what is it you’re doing. It should be very, very clear. Example: I make denim dresses for the 20 to 35’s something girl that hang well with theory and DVF – I have a picture in my head now. You should be able to have one of those little one-liner sentences that succinctly tells what type of line you do without having to show them a picture or take them to your Instagram page. Of course you can do that later if they ask to see pictures, but you don’t want to whip out your phone and be like, “Oh, let me just show you” – that’s not really the right way.

How To Network After The Event

1. You should be taking notes. You don’t want to be taking notes during the event. As you’re meeting people and depending on your memory – how good of memory you have, how often you’re meeting people at the event, and how many people you meet at the event – you might be able to wait until the entire event is over. Then maybe on your ride home if you’re taking the subway or on your way out of the event, you can jot down some notes either in a notepad or what I would like to do is actually write on the person’s business card. I write something I remember about them, something that I want to follow-up with them, and then I also write the date and the name of the networking event where I met them. Now for me, my memory is also not that good so sometimes I run into the restroom if I met like three people, write down some stuff, come back out, meet some more people, go back to the restroom, and kind of do it that way. You just don’t want to do it during the event or have people see you whip out a notepad and start taking notes while you’re talking to somebody – that’s not typically a good idea.

2. The fortune is in the follow-up. I cannot stress this enough that the follow-up is, I would say, probably the main part of networking. The event is just like the teaser – the follow-up is the meat. It’s really where you’re going to get the most benefit out of what you just put into the networking event. So, follow-up, I say 24 to 48 hours max, do not follow-up past that timeline and of course weekends don’t count. So if you went to an event on Thursday, you could follow-up Friday or the following Monday – don’t send emails over the weekend, no one is going to look at them. Definitely reference something that you talked about, make it very personal, don’t send a generic kind of cut and paste email when you’re following up with people that you met at an networking event, and then also be sure to just have integrity. For example if you said you’re going to do something, do it.  Like if you said you’re going to follow-up with someone or connect them with someone, make sure you make that introduction. Write that email introduction and email both people and CC them both and introduced them. Do whatever it is you said you’re going to do.

3. Keep that conversation going. To keep that relationship building, you kind of stoke the flame of that relationship. Maybe you want to set up a time to call the person or maybe you set up a time just to have coffee with them if it makes sense. One thing I’ll say, do not say to someone, “Oh let’s have coffee, so I can pick your brain.” That’s not a good thing to say, and most business owners or people who have a very large network are not going to have time to have coffee with you and they don’t want to asked a million and one questions. Anyone that’s worth anything probably will not have coffee with you. People ask me all the time to have coffee with me and I’m like no, I can’t afford to have coffee with you, I don’t have 20 minutes in my day to have coffee with every single person that ask me to have coffee. You want to respect the person’s time definitely, but if you guys agree to have coffee or you talked about having coffee or you talked about having a call, then obviously set that up and then always keep them in the front of your mind. If there is any way that you can continue that kind of relationship building, connect them with someone you know that’s going to help you eventually grow your network even more.

Last General Tips For Networking Events

1. Groups are better. If you’re not great at networking, you might want to think about joining a meetup group which meets consistently and it’s always generally the same people. Thus you can really build the relationship with them faster, that way instead of going to these events where you never know who is going to be there or you never know if it’s even going to be somebody you want to talk to, it’s different people every time. I did at one point join BNI which is Business Networking International, which is great, I highly recommended it.  They’re all over the world believe it or not and most likely they have one in your city or not far from your city. It’s the same people every week which is awesome, and it’s referral based and everybody kind of helps each other out. 

2. Skip the networking events with alcohol. I generally don’t like them. You’ll normally have some crazy guy that’s gets drunks and starts hitting on you. So, I just don’t like to go to the ones with alcohol. Business is business, pleasure is pleasure – I try to keep them separate.

3. Don’t go with friends. Resist the urge to bring a buddy along with you because most likely if you do bring a buddy, you’re going to spend the whole night with your buddy and you’re not going to go outside your comfort zone and talk to anyone. So, try not to bring your friend if you can.

4. Find the super connectors in the group. If you can figure out who is the most connected person or who has the biggest network, you’re probably going to want a network with them first because they are going to able to help you the most and have the biggest network to kind of pull from to introduce you to the right people. If you’re at a seminar and take a break for lunch or bathroom break or whatever the case may be, when you come back, choose to sit in a different seat. Number one it actually helps your brain not like zone out, so you pay attention more to what’s being taught at the presentation and number two, you most likely sit next to or around more different people that you can then talk to and network with. Actually, I love networking at presentation-type events or lectures because not only are you there to learn, but you’re there also to network and it’s a great opportunity.

5. Get out of a conversation if needed. If you need to get out of a conversation for any reason which often happens – maybe the person is boring you to death, maybe they’re talking so much, maybe they’re trying to sell you, maybe they’re hitting on you, could be a number of reasons. There are a couple of things you can do. You could kind of wait first – pause in the conversation, and then excuse yourself to go get a drink or go get more food or go to the restroom, so you kind of make it out that way. You could kind of start to shift your body language and kind of look away a little bit. Your body language is very important, so that would kind of help. You also could – if you do have a buddy there or you plan on having a buddy there – use your buddy as a wing man or a wing woman. Have a little hand signal or something like, “hey, save me from this conversation,” and you put up your little signal. Then the person comes over you know, they have to interrupt the conversation, and they need to talk to you whatever the case may be. Your friend could save you. It is easy to get out of a bad conversation, so don’t worry about that.

6. Don’t only go for the speaker. Talk to everyone else in the room, too. A lot of people will jam the speaker or bomb rush the speaker as soon as they’re done speaking because they want to talk to that person. However, everyone else in the room is just as important.

7. Make friends with the host. That’s really great because the host will most likely introduce you to someone else at the event and that’s going to be a good way to get thing started. If you arrive early, most likely the host is there. They’re always there setting up, so talk to them first and tell them a little bit about yourself, find out about them, and then most likely they will say, “Oh so and so is going to be here, make sure I introduce you to them or I want to introduce you to them” and they will introduce you.

8. The more practice, the better you will be. So, don’t give up if you go to your first networking event and you bomb it, just keep practicing. It does get better. This is something you can learn. This is a skill that can be learned. It does not have to be in within you, okay.

9. Act like you’re the host. This is always a good mindset to do and I try to do this when I go to networking events. If you’re the host of a networking event, how would you act? You would go around introducing yourself to everybody, welcoming them to the event, making sure that they have everything that they need. So, being serving and not taking – that’s kind of the mindset.

10. Throw your own event. If you really do hate networking events, you can always throw your own event and then you really are the host, which is often what I like to do. This is why I like to do collabs and create networking events because I do like to be the host and it is a lot easier to be the host than it is to be in an attendee.

11. Start out with Facebook. If you really hate networking events and events altogether, start out with Facebook. Social media has made it easier to network, so start out with Facebook. You can start reconnecting with old friends, you can even look who already is in your network, who has the most highest friend count, and start to private message them and ask them for things that you’re looking for. Say that you need to be introduced to or you can even just post a general recommendation post like “hey, who knows someone who works at DVF for Donna Karan or whatever.” If you’re looking for a job or you’re looking to meet a buyer or whatever it is, you can post a general recommendation post and see who writes back and gets some referrals that way.

12. Always be networking. Last but not least, always be networking. I don’t really go to a lot of networking events anymore, but I’m always networking no matter if I’m going to a lecture, no matter if I’m going to a fashion party, no matter if I’m going to the gym or the grocery store or I’m on the train or I’m on a plane. You can literally be networking everywhere you go. It does not have to be at a designated networking event and it’s just a general mindset – how can you help people – and in return, they will help you.

There you have it – my tips for how to network before, during, and after networking events. I hope you guys all enjoyed it. And for weekly fashion biz tips, join our Fearless Fashionpreneur Facebook Page!

Fashion Consultant Christine Daal

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