What is it about chatting up strangers in a controlled setting that makes us so uneasy? For some, it’s the self-promotional aspect of networking that registers as awkward; for others, it’s the challenge in finding common ground with new peers.
Blame it on the sweaty palms, the lengthy silences or the fumbling of business card holders. Whatever it is, networking can be a challenge difficult for many professionals to get comfortable with. Whether you’re brand new to networking or are looking for a few pointers, we’re dishing on our top tips to make the task a bit easier.
- Go in with a goal in mind – Networking is a purposeful activity. We all know we’re “supposed” to do it, but have you considered what benefit rubbing shoulders with strangers will help you to achieve? Make sure you understand your reason for attending before you step foot in the room.Maybe you attend one or two events month after month for the same reason (like, to establish partnerships with new clients, or raise overall brand awareness amongst your key demographic). Or maybe you have a specific goal in mind dependent upon your career and/or the function itself (like, to establish media connections for a specific campaign, or when marketing yourself as a potential hire). Whatever your reason for going out, figure it out before you arrive!
- Practice your opening line – When everyone seems engaged in conversation, as simple a word as “hello” becomes difficult to deliver. Try it in front of your mirror at home – hand outreached, smile wide – and repeat it in your head when marching forward to make someone’s acquaintance. There’s no need to wait for the other person to strike up a conversation; after all, a networking event is hardly the time to play coy. Everyone’s there to make new connections, so swallow your pride and get comfortable saying “Hi, I’m [insert name here]” with genuine confidence. (Pro tip: Having two or three interesting follow-up questions in mind is also a good idea.)
- Eat beforehand – Is there anything worse than trying to chat and shake hands with a plate full of food in one hand and a cold beverage in the other? If you’re smart, plan to fit a meal or snack into your schedule beforehand. That way, you won’t be so tempted to spend the evening by the buffet table. (As a bonus, fueling up allows you to loosen the tongue with booze without making a sloppy, less than professional first impression.)
- Bring a conversation starter – Why is it so much easier to ask a woman where she got her bag than it is to ask her what she does for a living? Networking events are the perfect occasion to wear colorful prints, eye-catching jewelry, and handsome accessories. You may have your opener planned, but those around you will be searching for a less formal way to strike a conversation. Give them something tangible to talk about!
- Be deliberate in choosing your +1 – In uncomfortable situations, some prefer to bring along a friend to help diffuse the tension. Especially if you’re new to networking, a buddy can act as a serious ice-breaker. However, on the flip side, they can just as easily become a distraction from meeting new people when nervous. If you need a plus one, find someone who is outgoing yet professional, whose presence you believe can truly help you to establish connections and create opportunities.
- Cheat with the guest list – Speaking of attendees, do you know who else besides yourself will be at the event? If the RSVP list is public, take some time to run down the names before arriving. Knowing what companies and publications will be represented may seriously influence who you decide to strike up a conversation with!
- Engage on social – Connections can be forged over social as easily and meaningfully as they can with business cards. Follow the host of the event on social media and help to promote the function beforehand. Perhaps someone from your circles is also planning on being there! Sharing photos and quotes from any participating speakers and lecturers is a great way to earn likes and follows from fellow attendees – plus, it allows you to take the conversation online and further communications with individuals. Be on the lookout for any official hashtags and handles promoted at the event to make sure you’re a part of the digital conversation!
- Plan to stick it out – It’s so easy to throw in the towel and say, “Okay, I did my part” just by showing up. After all, making a brief appearance is better than not making one at all – right? We say, if you plan to attend a networking event, plan to be there for the full duration. More often than not, the best (and easiest) connections are made right at the start and after the function is over!
P.S. Whatever you do, don’t forget your business cards!
The idea for this post was inspired by Eventbrite. If you’re planning to host your own event and need a little assistance, check out their event management and planning software here! What are your reasons for networking? Do you have any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers? Feel free to do so in the comments!