If you’re looking to develop your career, networking can be the key to professional growth. Networking will allow you to meet fellow professionals, learn about alternative career paths, and open the doors for mentors who can help you along the way. Yes, this means you should be spending at least 1-2 weeknights per month at industry happy hours, events, and even educational workshops or panels.

With a business presence in the vibrant startup markets of San Francisco and Denver, Amenify employees have had ample opportunities to get their networking on. Luckily, this has helped us hone our skills in the art of small talk and has led to some great connections with fellow industry professionals. With the help of our top three networking tips, we believe even self-described introverts can start networking like pros.

1) Listen. No, Really Listen.

You may assume the key to networking is keeping the small talk alive, but we’ve found the best tip for networking is to actively listen to your peers. This starts from the moment they introduce themselves. We’re willing to bet that more than half of the people at a networking event won’t remember the names of anyone they met (save for the trusty business cards in their wallet…which one was Kate, again?).

When someone introduces themselves, use the rhyming trick and start repeating their name and a word that rhymes with it (ideally one that relates to their appearance) in your head. Once you’ve done that a few times, attempt to use their name throughout the conversation so it really solidifies in your memory. Just take care not to say Hairy Larry out loud…

Of course, active listening doesn’t end after introductions. Be aware of parts of the conversation that directly relate to you. Capitalize on similar interests or a shared role at work. This will keep the conversation moving and ensure you have something to talk about once the other person is finished.

Networking happy hour event

2) Treat Networking Like a Speed Date

We believe the key to networking success is time management. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself in a long and tedious conversation more than once and it’s important to know how to handle it. Unless the person you’re talking to has the potential to alter your career (in a good way), ensure you don’t give dead-end conversations more than 10 minutes of your time. Introduce yourself, learn about their current role or interests, pass off your business card and move on. This ensures you talk to a variety of professionals throughout the event and don’t get stuck on flat conversations.

To do this, you’ll need to have an arsenal of exit strategies at the ready. Our personal favorite is the bathroom or beverage excuse. This is the least tricky and the most effective at moving you to other places in the room where new conversations await.

If that isn’t an option (like at an educational panel or event), then use the “phantom-friend” tactic and excuse yourself to go locate the friend that is “meeting” you there. Then, go find a new friend and start another conversation! Reserve your phone for emergencies only as having it out at a networking event can come off as rude. If the conversation is unavoidable and truly a time-suck, feign a phone call and move outside for a few minutes. Who knows, you may even meet someone out there doing the same thing!

Networking at an educational conference session

3) Prepare in Advance

Most people find networking exhausting because they’re repeating the same information over and over. To avoid this, try prepping for the event by setting 1-2 goals and preparing questions to ask your peers.

By setting a goal for each networking event, you’ll have a clear idea of which conversations are productive and which are wasting time. For example, If your goal is to leave the event with 5 business cards from real-estate professionals, then you can identify exactly who you need to talk with early on. This also gives you a benchmark to determine how successful each event is for you. If you’re falling short of goals, start looking for alternative events that may be a better fit.

Similarly, preparing questions in advance will keep the conversations going once you’ve found productive ones in which to invest your time. Be sure to ask questions that you’re generally interested in and actively listen (see tip #1) to the answers. By directing the conversation, you can feel confident in the topics that will be discussed and not have to think of answers on the fly. This is especially helpful when you are not a natural at small talk.

Overall, networking does not need to be as scary as people believe. If you spend time preparing in advance and researching events that will meet your goals, you’ll start to meet genuine people with whom conversations just flow. We hope these tips help prepare you for your next event and get you excited for the opportunities that lie ahead!