You arrive at a networking event….alone. Your heart is beating a little faster than normal and suddenly all of your charisma and charm go out the window. You try to lock eyes with someone so that you can make a first connection and find a temporary home in what can feel like a sea of strangers. Everyone looks to be happily engaged in a conversation so what do you do?
While this might sound like your experience at a middle school dance, this scene describes what so many people feel when they enter a networking event, especially one to which they’ve never been before. These are completely natural reactions, even for the biggest extroverts. The great news is that people go to these events to meet strangers, so you’re all in the same position! I’m here to offer 17 helpful tips to help you navigate a networking event and make the most of your time there!
1) Find the bar!
Whether or not you’re drinking, it’s always a great idea to position yourself right off the edge of the bar. Statistics show that most people run for the bar when they get to a networking event in order to feel a short respite from what can at first be overwhelming. Knowing this, if you position yourself a few steps from the bar, as people turn with drink-in-hand, you can easily strike up a conversation and catch them precisely when they’re seeking out a person with whom to speak.
2) Be Yourself!
Networking events are meant to be a jumping-off point for relationship building. If you can’t become comfortable enough to be yourself, you’ll be starting off these new relationships with a lie. Don’t try to be the person that you think the person on the other end of your conversation wants to meet. Work hard to be genuine. The people with whom you connect when you are authentic are the ones with whom you’ll want to stay in touch. You won’t, nor should you aim to, connect with everyone. It’s simply unrealistic.
3) Set your expectations correctly.
When attending an event, it’s important to know what you are there to do. Is your goal to feel out a new organization and get to know the vibe? Is it to meet 5 people whom you’ve never met? Is it to meet 1 or 2 specific people? These are all reasonable expectations to have for a networking event and it takes a little pre-planning to set these goals. What is not a reasonable expectation is to say that you need to meet everyone in the room for any event over 10 people.
4) Don’t spread yourself too thin!
The art of networking well can seem counter-intuitive in that it’s best to initially spread a large net, testing out a handful of organizations, and then, over time, weeding out most of them and committing yourself to a only a few. The primary reason for this is that you want to become a staple at these events. Someone whom others seek out and grows a reputation as a regular who can be counted on and trusted. When you bounce around to too many events where no one knows you, you’re doing yourself a disservice by having to build your brand from scratch in each environment. You’ll also find that networking is a lot more fun when you become a regular. People will sing your praises to new attendees (and this is always better than you doing it for yourself) and you’ll see lots of familiar faces!
5) Take notes!
When you ask for someone’s card after having a great conversation, it’s a good idea to take notes on their business card after they walk away or immediately after the event. This will help you to be more specific in your follow up!
6) Introduce yourself to the organizer
A great way to get to know more about an organization and who is involved is to seek out the event organizer and introduce yourself. He/she can then help point you in the right direction as to whom to meet, and likely will be able to make a warm introduction for you to other attendees to get you off on the right foot!
7) Treat people like a friend!
Would you go to a friend, interrupt his/her conversation, hand over a business card, talk about yourself, and then walk away? Of course you wouldn’t (otherwise you wouldn’t have any friends). It’s important to treat new networking relationships as you’d treat your friendships. Build rapport and trust that business will happen. How do you build rapport? Read on…
8) Ask great questions!
The only way to get to know someone else to ask genuine and thoughtful questions of them. It’s always best to walk away from a networking conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. Not only will they feel great about the conversation, but you’ll have gotten to know a lot about him/her and this will allow you to better determine how the relationship should or shouldn’t continue. If you choose for it to continue, it will also help you plan and execute your follow up more thoughtfully.
9) Sharing is caring!
This is no less true now than it was in kindergarten. If you are willing to share your contacts and resources, the more likely you’ll be to have others want to help you, as well. But, you want to develop a sincerity in your giving nature without expectation of something in return. Otherwise, your giving is a finely veiled farce for getting what you want.
10) Consider Their Network!
When meeting people, it’s important to remember that there can be greater value in that person’s network than in their direct ability to help you. Always consider your network as well as the person’s network with whom you’re speaking as the area of greatest potential.
11) Treat it like a puzzle!
When you get the hang of networking, it can be treated like a fun game or puzzle you’re putting together. If you’re asking great questions and considering how you can help others, you’ll naturally start to draw connection-points between the person with whom you’re speaking and others in your network. Offer to make these connections! Perhaps they are two people who could find synergy because they have the same target client industry, or maybe you know that a contact of yours is looking for the service the other provides. Always offer to make these connections. Encourage both parties to follow up with you after they meet so that you can hear what came of their interaction. It will not only pay dividends for you as there is a karmic-like nature to paying-it-forward in networking, but it will also help you hone your match-making skills as you get feedback.
12) Don’t be a card spammer!
The closest thing to you throwing all of your business cards away is to hand them out around a networking event to anyone and everyone whom you meet, without them asking for one. It will inevitably end up in the trash can anyway because you rudely shoved it in their face. If you haven’t built enough rapport with someone in a conversation to encourage them to ask for your card, don’t offer one.
13) Be specific!
The more specific you can be about what you do and what others can do to help you (if they ask), the better! If I say to you “I can work with any business in our state, can you help connect me with some?”, you’d likely go blank because that’s such a broad description. But if you said, “I can work with accounting firms and physician’s practices in our state, do you know any with whom I could connect?” you’d be doing better. You’d be doing the best if you told them the names of a couple specific companies with whom you’re looking to work. Get the idea? The more specific you can be, the better-positioned you’ll become to receive help from others.
14) Ask Yourself “Why should they care?”
Consider why the person with whom you’re speaking should give a damn about what you’re saying. Craft your conversations accordingly. You only have a short time to make an impression, so try to make it favorable.
15) Be engaged!
You don’t have to be engaged to be married, you simply have to be engaged in the conversation. Keep eye contact with your conversation partner. Nod your head and aim your body towards them when you’re speaking. These small cues go a long way towards making them feel like you care and that helps you to build rapport and trust, the foundation on which you can later do business.
16) Do NOT Work The Room!
As we touched on in #3, it’s important to set your expectations for an event and in so doing, recognizing that you not only shouldn’t try to meet as many people as possible in a room, you should only focus on making a few solid connections. People can sense when you’re simply speaking with them for a quick in-and-out, to grab their card and go. These short interactions will not be memorable and therefore work against you. Aim to meet a few people and begin a meaningful dialogue.
17) Don’t be afraid to join a conversation!
There is nothing wrong with joining a conversation and waiting for a natural break in the chatter to introduce yourself. In most cases, the people who are already speaking will enjoy the interruption because it gives them a chance to meet someone know. If you sense that you’ve entered into a serious discussion, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself.
Now you’re prepared to be a superstar networker at your next event! Utilize these tips and remember that at the foundation of networking is the beginning of a new relationship. Act in a similar manner as you would when you’d meet someone new anywhere and trust that other attendees are grateful that you’ve approached and inquired about them. There really is no place where you should feel more free to extend a handshake and engage in a conversation with a stranger! Live by this motto at your next event: “Do talk to strangers!”.