Published: over 2 years ago by Lauren King.
Networking events can be intimidating for even the most confident person. The idea of striking up conversations with strangers, not to mention making the most of your limited face-to-face time, leaves most people wondering where to begin. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of any networking event, just in time for All A-Board Alliance’s joint happy hour with EPIP Chicago and YNPN Chicago on September 2!
· Set realistic expectations and goals: Don’t expect to leave a two-hour event with 20 new contacts. It’s much better to have quality conversations with two to five people with whom you can follow up quickly than a pile of business cards of people whose faces you can’t remember.
· Get in line: Not sure what to do once you pick up your nametag at the door? Get in a line, any line! This gives you two people to chat with right away, the person in front of you and the person in back of you, and once you get to the head of the line, you have a natural ending point if you want it. Another great tip is to head straight to the bar. From there, you can take a quick moment to compose yourself and scan the room for a group of friendly-looking folks to approach and ask if you can join.
· Listen more than you speak: A not-so-little secret is that most people have a favorite topic of discussion: themselves. Asking questions that get people talking about themselves (“Oh, you’re a volunteer coordinator? What makes someone a standout volunteer for your organization?”) gives you an opportunity to not only learn a lot, but has them leaving the conversation feeling really good about the time they spent chatting with you. It never hurts to jot down a few notes on the person so when you follow up after the event (and you should always follow up!), it will help jog their memory on who you are and impress them with your listening skills.
· Leave them wanting more: Networking events are not the time to tell your life story or make a sales pitch, but rather to see if you can find common ground with someone new. Just like you want to ask open-ended questions to bring others out, make thoughtful comments that encourage others to dig deeper. This can lead to an excuse to follow up with your new contact, as well as opportunities to arrange to meet to talk more in-depth on a topic. If you can think of a person they should connect with or an organization for them to look into, so much the better. Again, just jot down a quick note on their card or in your phone so you can mention it when you follow up afterwards.
· Make a graceful exit: If you’re ready to move on or the conversation has started to die down, you don’t need to force yourself to keep it going. After all, you’re here to meet people! But make sure to mind your manners and not make the person you’re speaking with feel like you’re scanning the room for someone more interesting to talk to. Try an old standby like “I see the line for the food/drinks/raffle/etc. has reached a lull, so I’m going to head over there. It was great meeting you!” or “It’s been so nice to chat with you. I’m sure you’re eager to meet more people, so I’ll let you go.” And no matter what, it’s always appropriate to end any conversation with “If you don’t mind, I’d love to get your information and keep in touch. I’ll reach out to you soon.”
· Follow up: Did I mention you should follow up? Because you should always follow up, preferably within 48 hours of the event. Luckily, LinkedIn makes it easy and fast to do. Just be sure to personalize any invitation request with details including when you met the person and what you spoke about to break through the social media static.
· Be yourself: Sure, it sounds trite, but it’s important to come to any networking event prepared to present your best self. Dress appropriately, smile broadly, make eye contact, and use open and confident body language. Remember, everyone else is in the same position you are: they’re there to meet new people, too, so relax and enjoy yourself!