Networking events are held in almost every industry, and across the board, many people dread them. Who likes to have to walk around a room full of strangers and introduce themselves dozens of times? Plus, there are pressures on everyone at the event—maybe it’s the pressure to make the right connection, a deluge of people who see you as the right connection and want to get face time, or the simple desire to not be standing around alone reading the news on your phone. Maybe it’s all of these at once. Whatever kind of event you’re heading into, rely on this survival guide to keep you sane—and maybe even improve your outcomes.
Ask yourself why you’re going to the event. Who do you want to meet, and why do you want to meet them? For example, if your hope is to generate leads for your business, make a list of the qualities you are looking for in those leads—what size of job or project, budget, industry, etc. The same strategy of defining the ideal connection can work for those seeking investors, vendors, or even employees. Finding what you’re looking for gets easier when you know what it looks like. If you’re going to the event simply to make an appearance that speaks for your company, remember that the best thing is to always be yourself. However, if you’re not expecting to know many people at the event, it never hurts to decide in advance what sort of impression you want to make. Warm? Powerful? Serious? Fun?
Prepare in Advance
If all it took to achieve success was intending it, a lot more people would be successful. Planning in advance is also critical, and there are a number of ways you can choose to prepare. If the event’s guest list is publicly available, skim it to see if any familiar names stand out. If someone you’re trying to get a meeting with is going to be there, you will know ahead of time about the potential to connect. If a client or vendor will be present, you’ll be prepared to see them.
Without the guest list, there’s still self preparation to be done. One of the most uncomfortable parts of a networking event can be the moment of introduction, when you’re expected to casually interject yourself into a conversation and summarize yourself, your business, and more in a few short moments. Make sure you know the high points relevant to the audience at this event so you don’t kick yourself later because you forgot to mention one of your business’s service offerings or area of expertise. Also, decide on any anecdotes or personal stories you might want to share. When people are nervous, they tend to either clam up or overshare. Keep yourself somewhere in the middle with a few anecdotes you can turn to during uncomfortable silences.
Venture capitalist and veteran networker Rich Stromback told the Harvard Business Review in 2015 that 99% of the networking he’s done in his life has been a waste of time.1 But when you feel you’ve found someone in the 1%—a great opportunity, or just someone you enjoy being around and want to build a business relationship with—don’t let the details get muddled. If you have a great conversation, take notes about the topics afterward on their business card or in the notes app on your phone. Just a few one-word cues will help you remember what was special about them when the times comes to follow up.
Asking people what they love most about their job, or how they got their job, is always a good strategy because it tells you not just about the person’s work, but also can reveal details about their character.
Networking events aren’t intended to make everyone feel like they’re at a used car dealership, no matter what you might think. Many people go to these events for the chance to improve existing relationships and build new connections in their industry. Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or catching up after not seeing each other for a few months, it’s a good strategy to leave the conversation having talked less than the other person. That way they remember a great conversation and you learn a lot about your new connection or old friend to keep in mind for the future.
Questions will likely come up naturally in the course of conversation, but there’s nothing wrong with walking in and having a few chosen as icebreakers.
Quality, not Quantity
In a room full of people, some feel pressured to speak to every single person, but really if you leave the event with one new great connection it’s been a success. You might have to enter and leave a few conversations before you find the right connection, but don’t be afraid to spend longer than a few minutes chatting once you do.
Even with the many advancements in communication technologies over the last few decades, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interaction, especially in business. 95% of professionals believe in-person interactions are key to ongoing success.2 While going to networking events might feel like a chore, showing up to be part of your professional community will bring its own rewards in time.