Networking at NLC
Will we see you in San Antonio later this month? For FBLA members across the globe, the National Leadership Conference is a four-day sprint of competition, networking, and fun. You’ve been preparing for your competitive event, and know you’ll blow the judges away. Hopefully, you also know how to have some fun (but not too much)! The one thing you’re struggling with? The networking part. I remember my first NLC almost three years ago, even hearing the word sent shivers down my back. Done incorrectly, it can be an awkward and embarrassing ordeal. However, done correctly, networking will be one of the most valuable skills you’ll learn in FBLA — and open doors to opportunities at the conference and beyond. So what exactly are some tips for good networking? Well, read on!
1. Meet People Through People
When Caroline knows Travis, you know Caroline, and Caroline introduces you to Travis, Travis is more likely to talk with you. It makes sense, right? As human beings, we naturally feel more inclined to talk with those who we’ve already established rapport, or have a history with. The question then becomes, when you’re in a room full of strangers, how do those introductions happen?
Here’s a tip: when you’re ready to put on your networking hat, find 3-5 people to do it with. As you mingle, keep an eye out for each other, and who you’re talking with. Then, be each other’s best advocate. For example, if I am speaking with professional A, and my friend Josie comes along, I can say, “Josie! [wave her over]. Professional A, this is my friend Josie. She’s the [title] at [state/chapter] FBLA! You were speaking about [topic], and Josie’s been doing some cool work with that.” At that point, you can gracefully exit the conversation, and find another professional to talk with! Similarly, if you’re walking with a friend and see someone you’ve already spoken with, say, “Hi [name]! It’s great to see you again. Wanted to introduce you to my friend Josie. Josie, this is [name], and we had a great conversation a few minutes ago about [topic]. I thought the two of you may be helpful for each other.”
Ultimately, while networking is scary, you don’t have to be scared alone. Of course, when you team up with people, make sure you don’t travel in a pack (you’ll scare people away)! But do hand off the connections you make, such as the examples above — because we’re all better off when we’re all better off!
2. Ask How You Can Help
What do you think about when you go into a conversation with a stranger? To be honest, in my first FBLA conferences, I was always thinking about how to best present myself so I seemed important and put together. While making a good impression is important, what’s more important is being present in whatever communication you engage in. The reality is, most of us are high school students and have the same thoughts running through our heads. Who would you remember: someone who seemed kind of distant and used impeccable grammar, or someone who stuttered a bit but was super dynamic and personable?
In part of being present is the ability to let go of your own worries about why you’re here and focus on hearing the other person’s story. Ask them questions about their FBLA experiences, their chapter, and their community. Not only will you demonstrate that you’re invested in making this relationship a two-way exchange, you may also glean some interesting tidbits of information to take back to your own FBLA community.
Finding a way to help is the biggest part in making lasting connections at NLC — believe me, that’s something you want! In your conversation, identify something that could merit continued dialogue, or justify a follow-up. For example, if someone shared they’re struggling with building a LinkedIn profile, offer to help out! Likewise, if the person shares they have a stellar LinkedIn, put your pride aside and ask for help. Often, asking for someone else’s advice and feedback can be the best compliment and a sure way to building a valuable relationship.
3. Don’t Forget the Follow-Up!
Last but not least, don’t forget to grab contact information, and follow up! My first NLC was a whirlwind of conversations, and when I got home, I realized I didn’t get any emails, business cards, and solely a few Snapchats. Don’t make that same mistake! Before you end a conversation, ask for a business card, or share your own. After listening to an amazing speaker, Jeff Kaylor, at a NLC a few years back, I’ve even started carrying blank business cards! What for?
Sometime during NLC, you’ll probably connect with a fellow student who doesn’t have a card (and has their phone in an inaccessible location) or meet a professional who runs out of business cards. In these situations, pass along the blank card + a pen, and have them fill it out! That way, you’ll have a card to remember the contact buy, surprise them with your thoughtfulness, and make a great impression overall.
In your follow-up, don’t be afraid to be short and sweet. You don’t need to write an essay! If you learned something from the contact, always mention it. And don’t feel limited to one follow-up. For example, if someone gave you great advice on your resume, your first follow up could be about how you changed your resume based on their advice. Your second follow-up could be how you applied for a job using that resume. And your third follow-up could be about how you got the job!
The best thing for a contact to hear is how something they said or did helped you find success. Remember, constant light touches are the way to go!
On that note, happy networking at NLC! If you see a social media ambassador, please don’t hesitate to stop and introduce yourself (extra points if you bring us a blank business card :)). We’ll see you in San Antonio, and please let us know if you have additional networking tips to add to this article!