I’m sure you’ve heard about all the benefits about networking so I won’t go into that here.
Assuming that you understand how networking can elevate your career, connections and personal brand, I’ll dive into what to do when you finally get to a networking event.
Before you go, learn about the event. What type of people will be there? What is the dress code? If you don’t know what to wear, it’s always better to overdress than to under dress for the occasion. Make sure you’ve got some fresh deodorant on, perfume/cologne (not too much) and fresh breath. Don’t scare people off before you have a chance to show off all your awesomeness.
It’s also a good idea to find out if there will be food or if you need to eat before you go to the event, so your stomach isn’t growling as you’re trying to talk to someone.
Bring plenty of business cards (if you have them). If you do not have business cards, that’s okay; make sure you get their card. For some millennials, they rely on social media connections as their “business card.” If you get asked for a business card simply respond, “I actually don’t have any on me at the moment (no further explanation needed), do you have a card and I can send you my information in an email?” Then make sure you actually follow up.
Not every event will have name tags for everyone; if they do then that’s one less worry for you. When you’re beginning a conversation with someone, once you get their name; say their name at least three times in the sentences to follow. When you’re done, write the name down in your phone with a description (company name and contact details) so you remember.
If you ever forget someone’s name, here is a trick to get it back. You need to have someone else come into the conversation and introduce themselves to each person. Pay attention when they say their name again.
There is no need for you to jump right into your career or expertise at the beginning of a conversation. Nor do you need to ask right away what others do for a living. It’s a networking event – trust me, it will come up. Instead take interest and learn about the person in front of you. Also, make sure you are making eye contact periodically to show that you’re engaged.
Treat everyone you meet as a person and not as an opportunity for your personal gain. Invest your time in learning about them, finding common connections, interests and hobbies. You only have a few minutes with each person; people won’t remember much about you, but they’ll remember how you made them feel when you took a genuine interest in their life.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
Having a drink in your hand gives you a natural stance when talking to someone. Then you don’t have to fidget and wonder “what the hell do I do with my hands?!” However, if they are alcoholic beverages, I’d recommend two drinks max at a networking event with people you don’t know and whom you’re trying to have a great first impression on. You know your limits better than me, but I wouldn’t push on the verge of tipsy when your purpose is business.
The key is to take interest in the person’s life you’re engaging with at that time. Now there will be that one out of 20 times that you will come in contact with a narcissist. This is when to use your bathroom dip out excuse. If you are taking an interest and learning about the other person and they don’t ask you anything about yourself for five minutes, you’re safe to start planning to dip out of the conversation.
Networking events are usually only two hours long. Depending on how big the event is, your time is limited. You can’t get to everyone. Have a plan. Would you rather just briefly meet as many people as you can and get business cards or would you rather have deeper conversations with a handful of people?
Topics to avoid when first meeting someone you don’t know: politics, controversial issues, TMI (too much information) stories, status/income level, etc
Safe conversation starters:
If there is one person at the event that you want to speak to, but that everyone else also wants to speak to, there a couple of ways to catch them with no crowd. The first is in the bathroom. Don’t be a stalker, but if you “happen” to be using the restroom at the same time and leave at the same time you can start a conversation before the wolves come back. Also, hanging out by where the drinks or food are served is a good spot for conversations.
When leaving the event, it always leaves a great impression to say good-bye to people you met by using their name and referencing something you discussed: “Hey Stephanie, it was great meeting you this evening. Best of luck on your presentation tomorrow. We’ll have to set up a time to get a mini tennis match in soon!”
Erica Ferguson is a stress management coach and the Founder of Prioritizing You, a service teaching how to manage stress, avoid burnout, and navigate through life transitions. Erica has been in the health & wellness field for the past 10 years as a coach, trainer and manager. She is a fitness fanatic that loves to explore, witty remarks, helping others live their greatest lives and almost anything with almond butter on it! Take a complimentary stress assessment at www.prioritizingyou.com.