If you’re looking to grow your network, try these tips to make new connections at events.

How to Buddy Up and Grow Your Professional Network

Looking to grow your network?

Most of us are. A thriving network can open up great opportunities –and having a Rolodex, or, these days –a LinkedIn account that’s bursting full of helpful contacts can open up new doors, help build your credibility, lead to new job opportunities, and more.

But if you’re like many people, being social, and putting yourself out there doesn’t come naturally. Sure, we’re friendly enough, when approached –but mustering up courage out of thin air and walking up to a complete stranger and introducing yourself –now that takes nerve!

If you’re not naturally a people person, the good news is that becoming more social is a skill –and something that can be mastered. It may be difficult at first, but like most things in life, the more you do it, the easier it will become. With a bit of practice you’ll be graduating from wallflower to social butterfly in no time!

If you have an upcoming networking event, and are looking to make some new contacts, here are some tips that will help to get you off to a great start.

Be Prepared

Being prepared is half the journey! Know what you want to achieve before you attend the event, and have a clear picture on what type of connections that you want to make. Try to practice and perfect your 30-second elevator pitch, which is your brief introduction that outlines your experience and interests. Be sure to get your business cards printed up ahead of time, and if relevant, your resume as well. Plan your outfit –make sure you’re put together. Looking great will help you to feel confident –something that’s absolutely necessary for making a good first impression.

Be Friendly

Once you’re at the event, it’s time to put your social skills to use. Make an effort to go up to people that are standing alone and introduce yourself. Walk confidently and smile, be the first to extend your hand. When talking, listen carefully and show interest. You don’t have to spend a lot of time with any one person, but if you find yourself engaged in an interesting conversation, make sure you exchange contact information. You could even suggest a follow-up activity such as coffee. Above all, make sure you keep realistic expectations and don’t stress it –after all, you’re not there to get hired on the spot, you’re just there to meet new contacts!

Follow Up

All good relationships take time to grow. Don’t just leave your contacts hanging; be sure to reach out after the event. Consider sending your new contacts an e-mail or LinkedIn message telling them that you enjoyed meeting them. Add them to your contact lists, follow their blog, add them on Twitter or Google Plus, and engage with them when you can. For those contacts that you had a great conversation with, consider suggesting get-togethers in person for coffee –or set a reminder to reach out to them on a holiday or upcoming event.

Remember: you –and everyone else is at the event for the same reason: to make new connections. This isn’t a one-way street! Don’t feel that you’re wasting people’s time or that they don’t want to meet you –chances are they’re looking to meet people, just like you.

What are your networking secrets?

Image: Jurgen Appelo