Networking is one of the best things you can do for your career. If you’re in sales, it’s the perfect opportunity to find new leads and prospects. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s an ideal time to increase your influence, get advice, and find mentors. If you’re looking for a new job, it’s a way to meet new prospective employers.
But if you’re going to be successful when networking, you need to make a good impression. In the few minutes of conversation you’ll have with these new contacts, you need to make yourself memorable and ensure that their memory of you is a positive one.
How to Make a Better Impression
So how can you achieve this?
- Get professional business cards. First, make sure you have some professional-looking business cards to hand out. People won’t always make the effort to remember your name or where you work, nor will they go through the effort of putting your contact information in their phone. Handing them a business card shows that you’re prepared, saves them time and effort, and ensures you’ll be remembered—and you can get those business cards inexpensively, so there’s no excuse not to have them.
- Practice good grooming habits. This should go without saying, but make sure you look presentable at any networking event. Choose clothes that fit you well and are an appropriate level of formality for the event, and make sure you’re clean and professional-looking.
- Lead with a memorable line or anecdote. The first thing you say to someone could be memorable or entirely forgettable. If you say something generic like, “lousy weather, huh,” you won’t stand out. Instead, after going through initial greetings, tell a surprising or interesting story so you’ll be easier to remember in the crowd.
- Smile. Smiling is one of the easiest ways to make a better impression on people. Smiling shows people that you aren’t a threat, and makes you seem warmer and friendlier—as long as that smile isn’t insincere. Plus, smiling can make you feel more positive emotions internally, calming any anxiety you might otherwise feel.
- Keep your body language open. People notice your body language, whether you realize it or not. If you stand with your arms folded and your body pointed away, it gives a signal that you aren’t interested in the conversation. Instead, keep your body language open and inviting, and occasionally gesticulate your sentences.
- Maintain good posture. Keeping good posture, with your back straight and shoulders back, makes you seem more confident, which is a surefire way to make a better impression on people. Plus, you’ll seem more attentive and in control of the situation.
- Actively listen. Many new networkers are tempted to do as much talking as possible, telling people about their career and personal goals. But in most cases, it’s better to spend your time actively listening to others. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and ask critical questions to keep them talking. People love talking about themselves, so if you show enough interest, they won’t be able to forget you.
- Show off your personality. Too many people go into networking events with the intention of being the picture of professionalism, adopting a bland persona that no one would find objectionable. The problem is, this persona is neither unique nor interesting to the vast majority of other networkers. Instead, it’s better to show off your personality, speaking naturally and letting your sense of humor shine through.
- Find a connection. Find connection points with each person you converse with—points of commonality that you both share. For example, you might bond over your fondness for fishing, or learn that you both went to the same college. These touchpoints make it easier for people to remember you, and make it seem like you have a stronger bond than you actually do.
- Be positive. In your conversations, try to be as positive as possible. Instead of complaining about the food you don’t like at the event, focus on the food you do like. Instead of explaining how you’re sick of your current job, explain how you’re excited about new opportunities. Negativity will leave people with a negative impression of you as a person. And as a bonus, all that positive thinking will have concrete benefits for your life.
Practice Makes Perfect
While some of these tips can easily be harnessed with a single action, most of them will require practice to perfect. Learning how to lead with a good anecdote or display confidence can only come with time and effort. The more time you spend networking, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and the more control you’ll have over the eventual impression you make.