Ask the general public and they’ll probably confirm that networking sucks. It’s awkward striking up a conversation with a room full of strangers and even if you can worm your way into a conversation, it feels a bit smarmy talking to someone in order to “get” something in return. Going to a networking event without a wingman? May as well go home, get in your pajamas, order a pizza and convince yourself that being a hermit isn’t so bad.
Almost all of us have felt that way at some time or another. But we press on because we have been around the block enough times to understand that knowing the right people can skyrocket our professional endeavors. So we seek to get better at working the power lunches, the industry summits and the after work mixers.
Well, luckily for us, we live in the age of technology, which is not only helpful because you can take solace in the warm light of your iPhone when you’re standing all alone with your cheese plate, but because you can leverage tech to help you become a master networker and set yourself up for success before you even get there.
Have a strategy
If you go to a summit without a strategy, it’ll likely end up being a wash. You need to determine who you want to meet, what you want to achieve, and even set up meetings with key people before the event occurs.
“One of the best tools we came across and experienced firsthand so far was at Slush (2018),” said Normunds Kvilis, co-founder and CEO of DigiPulse. “One of their tools’ most useful options was a chance to schedule meetings weeks before the actual event, in specific areas to negotiate potential partnerships. With around 20,000 attendees, we couldn’t imagine getting any networking done without Slush’s app.”
Another great networking app for scheduling meetups in advance is GripApp. Said Kvilis, “We found Grip to be simply amazing – it works similar to Tinder, powered by artificial intelligence. Thanks to Grip, we were able to schedule and negotiate significantly more meetings than by using any other tool or on our own.”
The line between cool and creepy is a fine one. On the one hand, you want to be well-informed about the people you are trying to meet; on the other hand, you don’t want to look like a stalker. The best course of action? Be well informed, but don’t give away what you know.
You can certainly research your targets on LinkedIn. Most people have profiles and if you have LinkedIn Pro, you can send them an InMail to connect.
“An email or text message can’t replace a handshake over a cup of coffee,” said Don Martelli, vice president of Schneider Associates. “However, technology can help you identify new relationships you want to forge before an event. I’m using LinkedIn Sales Navigator to identify key contacts that are driving economic growth in our area.”
Lisa Bennett, vp of marketing at Kaltura agreed that online research prior to an event is crucial. “We use a mix of digital channels and video technology to network. A lot of social media, primarily leveraging LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “We also connect via channels such as Whatsapp, Skype and good old email. And of course, increasingly we are leveraging video through the various digital channels to communicate and relay messages across the web.”
If you’re continuously approaching some of the big fish, you might try using social listening tools as well, to get the most up to date information about what’s going on with their companies. Brandwatch, for example, allows you to generate reports on all press and social media mentions a company has had in a certain space of time. This information can be used as strong conversation starters.
What if you’re throwing a networking party?
If you’re the one throwing the event, good for you for investing in your network so heavily. Here’s the thing – your goal is to keep people having a good time, which means keeping them in the room. According to Ben Hindman at Splash, the best way to do that is to (surprise, surprise) empower them to network better.
“Give them a reason to connect,” he said. “These people are there to get value from the other people in the room … as an event planner, give them the opportunity to meet each other. That can come in the form of activities, that can come in the form of sharing food … or even funky name tags can be an opportunity to connect.”
Utilizing gamification technologies like Klik wearables takes that a step further by using smart badges that light up when contacts are made. Myriam Dumortier, brand manager of Klik, explained, “Engagement is not created by simply gathering people in the same room. We need a favorable context that will incentivize people to talk to each other.”
You are human … and that’s a good thing!
The reason you will never be replaced by artificial intelligence is because of your ability to be human. Embrace that fact.
At the end of the day, you still need to be able to strike up meaningful conversations with people and continuously foster strong relationships long after an event is over. That’s the imperative piece to building a strong network.
Technology can’t help you with your people skills – that’s all you. And yes, it can be awkward. But when you utilize technology to give you a head start, you might just find that it’s a hell of a lot easier to become a more well-adjusted human who happens to network like a boss.