Dear Abby (and others): How do I become a better networker?

With a mask in tow and hand sanitizer and business cards in my pocket, I attended my first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic last summer. Seeing a registration table and a breakfast buffet sparked a latent delight I forgot I missed in between Zooms and working from home. The opportunity to meet new people, in-person again – a joy to my PR world.

But as I haphazardly said, “great!” before someone asked how I was doing and stumbled through a few introductions, I realized I was out of networking practice. Months of virtual meetings and maintaining six-feet from people can make in-person meetings awkward.

To strengthen my networking muscles, I turned to some friendly experts that work to celebrate and build relationships for advice.

Tip 1: Find a line

As any regular Cup of Jo reader knows, you come for the blog and stay for the comments. (The site’s readers are known for their insightful and smart comments.)

I saw a comment highlighted in an Instagram post in January, which inspired this post.

Meg is right: Use your shared experience at the event and in the line to connect with others. From my experience, bacon is a great conversation starter in the breakfast line.

Tip 2: Be ready to share recent successes

I asked Maggie and Katelyn, the dynamic duo behind How To Say Hi, a podcast that hopes to inspire the world to recognize the joy and benefits of making small connections. Through personal tales and research, they discuss silly societal norms, offer advice for navigating social situations, and encourage listeners to look for opportunities to say, “Hi!”

I love the advice they shared with me:

“Enter with a bright disposition. Rather than using common woes (traffic, weather, stress) to relate to someone, prepare a few wins or recent feel-goods to mention. Not only will you feel more confident with your sunny vibes, but you will also be more memorable to those you meet.”

Maggie and Katelyn are right. You’ll likely be asked about some of your recent work and it’s great to come prepared to share a recent project you’re proud of. Listen to their latest podcast on networking.

Tip 3: Dear Abby says to bring others in

I often end my daily newspaper reading session by scanning the “Dear Abby” column. Periodically, a question about forming friendships or networking appears and Abby plugs her “How to be popular” pamphlet. In the name of research, I sent a $7 check for my very own copy.

While the pamphlet could use a refresh (it was originally published in 1983), Abby drops some helpful and timeless advice throughout, including:

“Be generous: If you’re in a group and notice that a few people haven’ said a word, try to draw them into the conversation by directing a simple question to them: ‘What do you think?’”

This is a wonderful tip, especially if students, young professionals or new acquaintances are in your group. Plus, it spreads the conversation around.

Tip 4: Don’t forget the follow-up

One of the main reasons we network is to build connections. Make sure to connect with the person on LinkedIn or send a quick email later that week. 

I love sending a personalized LinkedIn invitation with a relevant article or podcast episode, or a simple “thank you” for the conversation. If the person posts on LinkedIn regularly, keep in touch by engaging with their posts and celebrating their career successes.

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As we all get back to in-person networking events, what tips do you have for making connections?

Cameron McPherson

Cameron builds strategic communication campaigns that increase awareness and build public support. His familiarity with Virginia’s local markets helps clients navigate and understand complex and emerging issues. He frequently assists new companies, restaurants and other organizations launch in the Richmond market through public relations tactics.

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