Make networking your specialty in four easy steps | Emily Caswell

While I’m many years away from retirement, I like to dream about what it’ll be like. Lazy days on the beach reading books and sipping cocktails … and then I start to panic a bit. That might be fun for a few weeks, but what if I get bored? Well, I may have found a solution at a networking event last week.

As you hopefully saw, View Newspaper Group has added seven publications in northern Oakland County to our group. One of the new papers hosts a coffee networking event each Thursday, and I attended last week. It was a fun way to start the day. Plus, I heard the best line I’ve heard in a while.

There were three retired people in attendance, and each has started a “second career.” One of them stood up and said while he does play in a band, his specialties today are “not working and networking.”

We caught up one-on-one later in the morning and he shared that he and his wife take off at least 100 days a year from their side-gig. A second career with 100 vacation days and continued networking opportunities sounds like a retirement plan I can get on board with.

Anyway, I realized at the event, that it’d been a while since I’d been at a networking event that I wasn’t hosting and where I didn’t already know every person there. I had to flex my networking muscles a bit. After two years of very little in-person networking, I realized we could all likely use a refresher course. So, here are some networking tips:

• Prepare: This looks different depending on what type of event you’re attending and who will be there. Admittedly, I didn’t do too much prep work last week, but I did ask the organizer if I could bring donuts. He said “yes” and suggested a local bakery. Walking in with sweet treats is always a good first impression.

Some experts suggest mentally preparing what you’ll ask people or share with people to avoid meaningless small talk about the weather. As a naturally talkative person, I don’t need to do this, but I can see how this would be helpful for others. Maybe you have a unique hobby or have a fun trip planned. You could share about the last great book you read or the last great meal you had at a local restaurant. It may be a strange practice at first to think about what to share about yourself, but take it from a natural narcissist, it’s easier than you’d think.

It’s also a good idea to have your elevator speech at the ready. I didn’t know last week that each person would be asked to stand and talk for one minute but luckily, as a brand manager, knowledge of our company and what I do there is always top of mind. That may not be the case for you, so be sure to run through the basics in your head before walking into an event.

• Bring business cards: It’s rare that I have business cards on me. As a brand manager, this is a horrible practice. I promised myself that when we emerged from COVID and needed business cards again I would never be without them. As I pulled into the parking lot last week, I had a wave of panic until I remembered that I filled my business card holder with fresh cards months ago. Sometimes I can be really smart. The cards came in especially handy since I was meeting all new people.

• Smile: This may seem obvious, but I have been at networking events where not one person made eye contact with me, let alone smiled. I didn’t think much about it. People can be shy, networking can be awkward. Last week, however, I was met with the most upbeat, friendly group. There were so many smiles, and it made a huge impression on me. I felt welcome and really nothing feels better to an outsider. That made me hope that I’ve been that friendly person to a new networker at some point.

• Come back for more: While I can’t attend this event weekly, I’ll be back. Just as with anything in business, you can’t achieve success without frequency and consistency and the same is true with networking. You have to show up over and over again so people can get to you know and what you’re all about. With any luck, some day for me that will be not working and networking, until then it’ll be working and networking.

Emily Caswell is the brand manager for VIEW Group, the branding division of View Newspaper Group.

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