As it turns out, my best advice for professional networking reads similarly to a dating advice column. After all, in both cases you are working towards building a mutually beneficial relationship. Networking can be one of the most rewarding uses of your time, setting your business up for short term and long term success.

Don’t underestimate the power of being present

Getting your face and business name out into your local community will make it much more likely that you gain referrals, and establish meaningful connections with like-minded individuals. However, attending a community networking event or making small talk with a complete stranger can silence even the most outgoing people. Don’t let social anxiety or foot-in-mouth disease stop you from making a great first impression.

Keep these 5 tips in mind the next time you find yourself looking for an easy exit at a networking event:

  1. Make the First Move. Arriving early, rather than slipping in late, will allow you to easily find a seat where you’re comfortable. I like to use this time to quietly introduce myself to a few people who are around me, already breaking the ice before the actual “ice breaker” activity. When it comes time to mix and mingle you will see those same people in various small groups, and will feel more comfortable walking up saying “Hi Joe, can I join you guys?”
  2. Be a Good Listener. Spark the conversation with a question directed at one individual, and then allow them the time to give a full answer without interruption. Pointed questions open the door for that person to feel like an expert and showcase their business. What inspired them? Has that always been their passion? That will make them feel special, and they’ll return the favor by giving you your turn to speak.
  3. Take it Slow. There’s no need to show off at a networking event. This will make you seem unapproachable. No matter how amazing your business or skill set is, you don’t want to be remembered as the overbearing sales pitch guy. It’s important that you balance conversation between what your business can offer, and more light hearted conversation. Go prepared with a few topics that were in your local news, or pop culture related media that would appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.
  4. Practice Self Awareness. Just as much as you’re gauging who you want to talk with next, people are doing the same towards you. Would you want to talk to you? Be aware of how people perceive you. I like to call this Body Basics: sit up straight, return eye contact, give others their personal space, moderate your voice to be respectful of other conversations and most importantly, SMILE!
  5. Don’t forget to Call. You’ve collected business cards, exchanged numbers, and maybe even set up a time to meet. At this point you feel like the day was a success, and it was, but that is just the beginning of the conversation! For the more meaningful connections you’ve made, keep the door of communication open by following their social media profiles or sending a direct mail referencing something you spoke about.