For a lot of professionals, the ability to walk into a venue full of people and conduct meaningful conversations isn’t always an easy one. For some, it’s outright uncomfortable and awkward. Even seasoned professionals aren’t feelin’ it sometimes. It happens.
For many who are uncomfortable with attending networking events, even the most well-intended of plans can go out the window once you’re in the middle of the scrum. Here are 5 ways you can set yourself up for networking success.
Choice of attire is one of the basic commandments everyone should know by the start of their career. Dressing to fit the evening sends the message you are aware enough to respect yourself, your peers, and the host who set up the event. If you are networking for a job, the people you talk to will see you know what it takes to rep yourself and a company.
Here in Seattle, the culture can be a little different. Whereas in other parts of the nation, even casual networking events might be a little more formal. Depending on the right event here in Seattle, people often wear jeans and a collared shirt and get away with it. It’s just that kind of culture. If, however, you’re getting that gut feeling you want to dress a little better, it can only serve you well.
2) Bring Your Business Cards
Yes, they are still relevant. Save for your snappy elevator speech, nothing says you have your act together like pulling out a business card at an appropriate time. A business card is not a Twitter handle your new friend can forget 2 minutes later. A business card is not a phone number you type into your phone only to slip up on a single digit. A business card is a tactile, physical reminder of the great conversation you two had and a touchstone for meeting again. Best of all, the info on a business card is iron-clad so there is no miscommunication.
As a job seeker, I never feel better than when I have my business cards at the ready in my left dress-shirt pocket (or my rear-left jeans pocket at a casual event). When I make a positive connection and they ask whether I have a business card, the fact I can give it to them immediately sends a lightning bolt message telling him, “This dude has it going on.”
3) Upon Entry, Find The Event Organizer And Thank Them
This small effort has never done me wrong, and seeing as you’re obviously intelligent individuals, you can probably imagine why. It shows class. It shows you are going out of your way to acknowledge the effort the host put in to make this valuable event happen. In today’s age, it’s the little nuances, the seeds you plant, that can make the difference. It sets up the possibility for a valuable conversation for which you can follow up at a later time. (business card, anyone?)
4) Mingle. No, SERIOUSLY. Work the room.
By mingling, I don’t mean standing around in a crowd of people you don’t know and wait until you recognize your best friend. You’re here for a reason, right? I know it’s tough if you’re shy but if you’re there to network, create connections, and get to know your community better, this is where the magic happens. If you see someone standing by themselves, it’s a perfect chance to start a conversation on an equal plane. There’s a million things you could say to break the ice; from simply introducing yourself to asking if they know who the host might be. Even if you know already, it’s still a good way to create rapport. You’re just looking for common ground. If the venue has a bar – which the majority of them do if it’s an evening event – that’s a great chance to chat up someone next to you, and in turn meet their friends. Before you know it you’re handing out multiple business cards at once!
Whether it’s a professional environment or less than, don’t be afraid to be open and communicative. It can only serve you well in the long run. Approaching groups can be rough for anyone. I have certainly done it and was both very successful and also NOT so much. The dynamic with you and the group might or might not vibe, but the successful moments have been when the groups I approached understand they’re at an actual networking event. Your effort at community-building should be encouraged and supported by those in the group. If the effort doesn’t go well and they appear to be avoiding engagement from the very beginning, that’s just a battle you’re not going to win. They have it in their heads to close themselves off from people they don’t know and that’s that.
That will not stop you from turning around, moving on, and introducing yourself to someone else. Why? Because you’re at a damn networking event.
5) It’s About Them
You have engaged. The friendly person has reciprocated communicative efforts. If you can flow into a healthy convo from there, that’s even better. If not, it’s cool. They might pose a statement or question in return and off you go. If that doesn’t happen but the person is still open to further chatting, simply ASK ANOTHER QUESTION. It’s really that simple. Ask them where they might work. What part of town is that? What’s your specific job? Have you been to this venue before? Those questions on their own should get you off and running.
“What if I’m so totally not interested in what this person has to say?” Well then, you’re in trouble because the BIGGEST part of networking (or most anything, really) is LISTENING. You can’t really teach that. You have to want to pay attention. Listen and value what that person has to say. Invest in what they’re telling you and then parlay their story into other questions. It’s a beautiful circle of conversation that tells the person you’re genuinely interested in their story. That’s what you’re listening to – THEIR story. I just happen to like stories and, in this situation, you should too.
There are so many ways to improve your networking capabilities, efforts, and overall experiences. At the end of the day though, it’s just about getting out there and doing it. Whether it’s looking for a job, recruiting for a job, or even just building relationships, you can’t really go wrong with these 5 ways to rock your next networking event.