3 Secrets to Better Networking from 300+ Coffee Chats

I used to be absolutely terrified of networking. The thought of talking to grown-ass adults made my heart race and my mouth go dry. In my second year of university, I decided to face my fears by joining a sales team where I had to make cold calls to hiring managers and business owners. When I survived my first cold call, I realized that talking to adults wasn’t actually that bad. Eventually, I became brave enough to walk into the offices of local businesses and ended up winning the sales award that year despite being one of the most junior volunteers.

That experience was the start of my networking journey. From there, I built up the confidence during my internship to meet with every manager from my department—all 25 or so—including the VP/CIO, Senior VP, and CEO. I joined dozens of networking events and overcame many moments of awkwardness with hundreds of peers and professionals.

Although I’ve done several webinars on the topic of networking, I thought I’d share my top 3 learnings for those of you who are busy and want a quick read. Whether you’re a student or an executive, I guarantee you will have more engaging conversations with these tips.

Do your homework and figure out their vibe

The quick exercise of looking someone up takes 5 minutes and gives you a glimpse into the person that you’ll be talking to. People like to know that you’re genuinely interested in them, so don’t be afraid to say “I looked you up on LinkedIn and thought it was cool that [insert something interesting you found out]”.

Go on LinkedIn and read their About section to understand how they perceive themselves (e.g. an accomplished leader? a subject matter expert?), Volunteer section to see what causes they are passionate about (outside of work), Experiences section to see what kind of jobs and career paths they’ve had, Recent Activity to see what kind of content they engage with, and Recommendations section to see how others perceive them. Check to see if you have any mutual connections that could be worth mentioning in your conversation.

If the person doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile (or has a very bare one), then try Googling them to see if they appear on any company websites, alumni or local news articles, etc.

Ask great questions that make them pause and think

Many people that I’ve met with seem like they run on auto-pilot and expect me to ask the same questions that they’ve had to answer dozens of times before. My favourite moments are when I surprise them with a question that they’ve never heard before and it makes them smile, think, and re-engage in the conversation.

Preparing great questions can take some time and practice, but doing your homework helps you tailor your questions to the person instead of the professional. This creates more of a genuine connection which later opens up the dialogue to touch on other topics that you may not have thought about before (see below).

I usually prepare 3-5 tailored questions that focus on:

  • WHY they made certain choices or decisions (e.g. pivoting from one industry or profession to another)
  • HOW they would compare their past and current experiences (e.g. a role in marketing vs. a role in sales)
  • WHEN they realized certain epiphanies or signals in their career (e.g. when they knew it was time to make a career transition)
  • WHAT they would have done differently in hindsight (e.g. what they would tell a student or early-in-career who was looking to accomplish what they had)

Throughout the conversation, I also come up with questions on the spot when I catch onto a unique or interesting comment. This keeps the conversation fresh and unexpected for both sides and opens up the door to new topics. (Note: this habit of synthesizing information and extracting a detail in real-time takes a lot of practice and is a skill that I’ve developed over many years).

Send a thank you note with key takeaways

Always send a thank you note if you were the one who asked for the meeting, it’s the least you can do!

People love knowing that their time was of value and that they actually helped you, so go above and beyond a simple “thank you” by sharing your top learnings from the conversation.

Although I don’t expect any replies to my notes, I’ve definitely received a lot of positive feedback about them… many have told me that I was one of the only people who have taken the time to do so (which is so surprising)!

I also love sending these tailored notes because they help me remember my own learnings, and make it easier to follow up in the future when it’s time to send holiday emails or catch-up invitations.

Closing thoughts

Networking is such a fascinating topic that I could write about it for days—and maybe I will—but I hope that you’ll keep these top 3 tips in mind so that you can have more engaging conversations going forward. Feel free to check out my other networking resources below:

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