There’s a certain art to networking, but with the right mindset and preparation, you can be networking like a pro at any event. Networking isn’t just about finding someone who might one day hire you. It’s about finding people who work in fields you are interested or who are simply well connected in other fields.
It’s also about finding mentors and roles models you look up to and creating a relationship with them. At a pan-African event, you’ll likely find people you have a similar cultural background to, which makes breaking the ice much easier.
Many pan-African events are an opportunity to network because you never know who’s going to be in the room. Networking at a pan-African event is similar to many other types of events, but you have to be culturally sensitive to the types of people that will be present. Use your brain and your smile, and you’re sure to come out successful.
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To help you along, here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you network your way to your dream career field.
1. Do your research
Make sure you have a good sense of the organization that’s putting on the event. What is the event all about, what sorts of people are likely to be there, etc. If the event will have speakers, look up their profile and decide which ones you want to make sure you get a few minutes with. During their talk, take notes and have follow-up questions that show you’ve done your research AND you listened during their speech. Beyond that, think of the kind of people that are likely to attend, will it be people from a specific industry, a specific cultural background or hobby, what might their age and other demographics be like. You’re not out to write a research assignment, but just be prepared for the kind of crowd you will be mingling with. This will also help you decide if the networking event is worth your time.
2. Dress appropriately
First impressions are everything, so make sure you dress the part. That said, your research will give you a little hint into what kind of event it will be. You don’t want to go to a casual event in a suit – although, especially for African events, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. Events like the IAAPA Networking mixer put on by Face2faceAfrica are held at a bar and have a young and fun vibe to them. But keep in mind that you are not there to go clubbing. Remember that some African aunties and uncles will be in attendance so you already know they’ve decided your destiny after one glance. Make sure their assessment is a favorable one. Dressing for a pan-African event is also your chance to add a little color and culture to your business casual attire. Wear something you are comfortable in and reflects your personality.
3. Bring your business cards
It might seem old school, but having a business card on hand is still a great idea. It gives people a physical thing to hold without breaking the conversation by whipping out phones. It makes you look prepared and super on your ish. But if you don’t already have a business card, don’t stress yourself out. Not that many people are carrying them around nowadays, just make sure you follow tips 4 and 7 very well.
4. Have your elevator pitch ready
Networking events can be fast-paced and even loud so make sure you have a short and interesting introduction ready. The introduction should be able to give the listener a view of who you are, what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. If you’re in the job market, don’t outright say “I’m unemployed” or “I’m looking for a job in X field,” it comes off a bit desperate. Instead, say what field you’ve been in (use present tense) and the one you’re “hoping to pivot to.”
5. Bring your crew
Networking events can be nerve wrecking solo. Bring your crew along for support but also because you care about them expanding their professional circle as well. You and your friends can tag team chatting up a speaker you’re interested in, encourage each other, and come back and compare notes. If you can’t find friends to go to the networking event with, don’t fret. Just be your own hype person and get to work making more friends at the networking event.
6. Set a goal to connect with 10 people
While it doesn’t have to be exactly 10, having a focus gives you direction and purpose at an otherwise casual gathering. This also reminds you to not get stuck in a corner only conversing with one person. That said, if the conversation really is that fascinating and you and that person really hit it off, it’s ok to keep chatting. But try to make your way around the room. Also, make a goal of the type of people you want to connect with. It’s unlikely you will get to speak to one of the speakers all night, so make a goal to also network with peers because you never know where you all will end up in the future.
7. Take the number/info of the other person
This is super important, especially for people you want to ensure you stay in touch with. When you give someone your information, they may or may not reach out to you after the event. On the other hand, if you take their info, you know you can take the initiative to do that follow up (see point 10). So whether it’s their business card or taking their email and number in your phone, make sure you get their info and create a way to find them later. If using your phone, you can put the name of the event and a few notes next to each name you save, so that, later, when you have too many names swimming in your head, you can easily find your ‘must contact.’
8. Blog about it
If you have a blog or personal page, talk about the event and write a summary about it. This is especially important if it’s an event in your field. It helps to establish your authority in that area and gets you back on people’s radar. Make sure you send a copy of the article to the organizers and to any speakers or individuals you made a connection with.
9. Talk about your attendance on social media
This is something you can do even without a blog. You should snap a few photos for the gram or tweet about the event. Make sure you use the event’s hashtag and tag the organizers, perhaps they will end up reposting. Even if they don’t repost, you never know who is watching that hashtag and who will end up discovering you. Again, it helps establish your authority in that field and shows you as an engaged and digital savvy person.
10. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
This can’t be stated enough. All the preparation, networking and posting you did before, during and after the event mean nothing if you don’t follow up with the people you connected with. Even if it’s just a simple email saying “it was so great to meet you,” sending a someone a photo of the two of you or anything like that, make sure you get back on their radar within a few days of the event. With busy individuals, you usually want to follow up with a good question or lasting statement that compels them to respond. This is only possible with the right research and your thinking hat tightly fastened. But however you decide to follow up, just make sure you do.
Now you are all ready to network like a pro at a pan-African event, or any event for that matter. Remember that it’s not just ‘networking’ events that you can network at – you can network almost anywhere there is a gathering of amazing people.
For example, this weekend at the Pan-African Weekend in New York City, there are four days filled with amazing celebrations of pan-African achievement. While there is an IAAPA networking mixer on Friday, you can also network during the Pan-African women’s forum, during the red carpet portion of the F.A.C.E. List Gala and of course at the closing Jazz Brunch. Opportunities for repeated exposure to the same speakers and amazing individuals shouldn’t be missed as it helps to solidify a relationship even before the event is over.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that your network is your net worth so spend the time and effort required to cultivate a powerful one.