I just got back from a professional coaching conference in Orlando and it had been months since I had practiced my networking skills. We’ve all been there—walking into a conference room full of people, instantly gripped by the realization that we’ve forgotten how to network. It’s like forgetting how to ride a bike in the middle of a triathlon. 😬 But don’t worry! You don’t have to resort to awkward conversations and forced interactions. In fact, this is a chance for you to redefine your approach to networking by infusing it with compassion (so that you ALSO remember to take care of yourself while you’re there).
Here’s the top 3 most effective and compassionate things you can do to network when you find yourself at a conference and you’ve momentarily forgotten how.
1. Listen More Than You Talk. Really LISTEN.
Yes, networking is often equated with talking about yourself, sharing your accomplishments, and distributing business cards like candy. But if you approach networking from a compassionate angle, it becomes less about you and more about the other person.
- Active Listening: While in conversation, focus completely on the other person. Nod, make eye contact, and respond thoughtfully to show that you’re genuinely listening and interested in what they are sharing.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: My favorite. Instead of just asking about what someone does for work, delve deeper. Ask about their current projects, the challenges they’re facing, or even something as simple as how they’re enjoying the conference. You’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of your new contact!
- Offer Value: After listening, think of how you can add value to the other person’s life. Maybe you know someone who can help with a problem they’re facing, or perhaps you’ve read an article recently that could be beneficial for them. I teach a lot of my university mentees to come up with 1-3 ways to help the person you want to connect with before you make 1 request of them for yourself.
By listening actively, you make the other person feel valued and important. This is a key element of compassionate networking.
2. Be Authentic—Be You
Let’s be honest, people can tell when you’re faking it. If you’re not genuinely interested in talking to someone, it shows. This not only affects how others perceive you, but it also limits the potential for a meaningful connection.
- Share, Don’t Brag: Talk about your interests and projects, but don’t make it a one-sided boasting session. The idea is to share information about yourself to find mutual interests that can form the basis for a longer-term professional relationship.
- Be Honest: If you don’t know something, say so. If you’re feeling nervous, it’s okay to admit it (within appropriate boundaries). People are generally more forgiving and open than you think.
By being authentic, you are respecting not just your own integrity but also the humanity of the person you are talking to.
3. Follow Up Meaningfully
Collecting a stack of business cards means nothing if you don’t follow up. Seriously. And what a waste of trees if you don’t repurpose them as portals to meaningful relationships. Be ecological. Full stop.
- Personalize Your Message: Instead of sending a standard LinkedIn invite, remind them where you met and mention something from your conversation. This will not only jog their memory but also show that you were paying attention.
- Offer Value in the Follow-Up: Did they mention a particular challenge they were facing? Include a link to a helpful resource in your follow-up email or message.
- Keep the Conversation Going: Don’t just disappear after one follow-up message. Check in every once in a while to ask how they’re doing and update them on your own progress. Make it a two-way relationship.
Remember, networking is not about the quick win but building long-term relationships. By following up meaningfully, you’re laying down the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship.
By shifting the focus from yourself to the other person, you make the networking process more compassionate for both parties. Networking doesn’t have to be a daunting or tedious task; it can actually be fulfilling when done correctly.
So, the next time you find yourself at a conference and you’ve forgotten how to network, just remember these three tips: Listen, Be Authentic, and Follow Up. You might be surprised by how much richer your networking experience will be.