Networking can be a very fun, very enjoyable, and very fulfilling part of your professional career if you do it right. Though not everyone is a natural at it, you may not realize (especially if you identify as an introvert) that nobody is a natural networker. Social butterflies might seem like they were born to do it, but there's a big difference between being social and networking.
It's easy to miss that difference. Networking often takes place in traditionally social places like bars, and regularly includes alcohol, among endless groups huddled together seemingly gossiping over nothing of importance. Many networking sessions and events aren't really about networking. If you want to make the most of your time, hone in on what makes power networkers successful and leave the gossip for your happy hours.
1. Respect the right kind of small talk
Humans use small talk as a way to connect, and in American culture it's the expected social norm when you first meet someone. Depending on your industry and the event, good small talk can include talking about which silent auction items caught your eye, what most impressed you about the keynote speaker, or which breakout sessions pique your interest. Avoid any type of gossip, talking even remotely badly about other people, and the big three red zones: sex, politics, and religion.
It's so obvious, but many people clam up or even practice their resting bitch face when they're nervous. Smiling takes practice, and you can do it whenever you're in public. Eye contact for a moment and a big smile can move mountains.
3. Have options for connecting
A good networker has a traditional business card that's high quality as well as an app (or apps) for exchanging information electronically. Make sure your social-media links and website are included in all your communications.
Listening requires being active, providing the right verbal and nonverbal cues that you're interested and engaged, and it also requires follow-up questions. Show a genuine interest in another person and you'll win them over easily. People loves talking about themselves.
5. Ask more than tell
Some people are quicker to open up than others, but if you can master the art of asking questions without it sounding like an interrogation, you're on the right path. Again, play to a person's natural narcissistic tendencies. (Remember: Everyone has them.)
6. Say yes whenever possible
This means yes to new networking invitations, yes to having coffee with a potential colleague, and yes to hearing more about an influential person's latest passion. It's our society's default response to say no--but anything can happen when you say yes. Try saying yes at your next networking event and see what develops.
7. Dress the part
Always take pride in your appearance and depend on high-quality clothes and accessories. However, you also need to dress for the industry and event. You want to just barely stand out in the right way, not look out of place. Think quality instead of stealing the show and you'll be fine.