You’ve heard that succeeding in your career is all about who you know. Guess what? It’s true. Research backs it up: Women with a network of female peers and third-party contacts have 2.5 times the expected job placement level than women with predominating male-dominated networks. Understanding this, it’s no surprise that female coworking spaces like The Wing are on the rise. It’s becoming more apparent that to succeed women must band together to take on the business world.
There are many extrinsic barriers for women in the workplace, but women also face self-imposed barriers especially when networking or selling their expertise. Women are far less likely to advertise their strengths and expertise as well as leverage their connections to get ahead. And often, women see networking as intimidating or even deflating.
Because networking is integral to a successful career, women must break through these barriers to assert themselves as experts in their field and connect with others. Here are tips for making the most of your networking experience.
How to Host an Awesome Networking Event
Hosting your own networking event creates a unique opportunity for you to control the energy of the room. There are countless ways to make meeting new people less dreadful for everyone involved. Here are a few ideas:
- Break the ice – Most networking events immediately jump to one-on-one conversations. This can be intimidating for the more introverted guests. Start the night off with a facilitated group ice breaker to make everyone feel more comfortable. Working together will build unity among the guests and introductions will help people determine whom they should talk to later.
- Gamify the event – Make networking more interactive by turning conversations into a game. Create a game that attendees can do together or that compels attendees to meet each other. Turning networking into a game adds structure and makes the event less anxiety-inducing.
A couple of ideas to consider:
- Scavenger hunt – Create a scavenger hunt that can be done in small groups. Sharing a collective goal is a great way for people to connect.
- Bingo – Create bingo sheets with each attendee’s name on it and create an incentive for completing a line. This can easily turn into a competition, so create a structure around how long each attendee needs to interact.
- Leverage the nametag – Connecting over a mutual interest is an easy way to create a bond with someone else. Anne Devereux-Millsor of Parlay House came up with the idea to have each guest share their favorite book. When they arrive, guests write their favorite book on their name tag – making it easy for others to strike up a conversation. This could easily be replicated with favorite podcasts, favorite musicians, or something related to your industry.
- Encourage connecting afterward – The point of networking is to build connections that will extend past the event. We’ve seen some creative ways of encouraging that behavior during the event:
- Asks and offers: On a whiteboard or large piece of paper, add “Ask” and “Offer” columns. Attendees can list things they need or are providing with their phone or email for others to contact them.
- One challenge: Ask people at registration what challenge they are struggling with. Then print those answers and hang them around the networking room. As people walk around the networking event, encourage them to add their email to the paper if they can help.
Network like a Rock Star
Networking events can be overwhelming, but with the right mindset and preparation, networking events can be something you look forward to. Here are some ideas to make it work for you:
- Shift your perspective – Networking doesn’t have to be a dreaded occasion. By shifting the way you think about networking, you can get a lot more out of the experience. Think of it as an event where everyone in the room has a shared interest or motivator, and everyone is just as nervous as you.
- Choose events wisely – There are thousands of networking events out there. Don’t lose your steam by attending ones that don’t resonate with you. Look for an event that speaks directly to your professional goals, with attendees you’d actually really want to meet.
- Bring an accountability buddy – It’s easier to break the ice with new people when you have someone familiar around. Even if you and your friend are apart, it’s comforting to have someone you can go to if you need a little extra encouragement. But when you do bring a friend, hold yourself accountable for finding new people. Maybe make it a game with a goal of who can walk away with the most business cards.
- Have an objective – As with anything business-related, it’s important to have goals that you’re trying to meet. Create concrete objectives like:
- Have three conversations with people I’m drawn to in the room
- Find at least two prospective clients/customers and schedule follow-up meetings
- Prepare for your conversations – Be prepared to ask questions that aren’t the normal “what do you do?” What advice are you looking for? What information might be valuable for you? Is there an idea you want to test and get feedback on? Prepare these questions before you step foot inside.
- Share your skills with others – You are an expert in what you do. You don’t need to downplay your skills to appear humble or approachable. Share your expertise with others, don’t hold it back.
Networking can be fun and useful with a little preparation and reframing of old ideas. What tips do you have for women looking to get more out of networking? How can hosts encourage connecting on a deeper level at their events?