Anyone serious about their business, or about building their career, knows how important it is to attend networking events. But for many people, walking into a room and introducing yourself to strangers is intimidating and daunting. Here are a few valuable tips to make the process both easier and more effective for you.
Arrive early rather than late
There’s a natural tendency, if you are nervous about networking, to arrive “fashionably late.” However, getting there late will actually work against you rather than help you. By arriving early you’ll be there before it gets crowded. You’ll get a feel of the place and be able to meet people at the early stages when they arrive individually or in smaller groups. It is much easier in those settings to strike up a conversation than it will be once things get rolling.
Ask simple questions
Don’t wait around waiting for someone to approach you, but walk up to someone and say something that’s simple and easy for them to work with like, “May I join you?” or “What company do you represent?” These are questions that elicit a quick and easy response, getting the conversation started. Listen carefully to their answer so that you can address it in some way to create a connection. For example, if they tell you that they are with XYZ company, the next question could be something like, “what do you like best about XYZ?”
Be a farmer, not a hunter
Nothing is more annoying at a networking event than someone who, without knowing anything about you, begins to ask you to give them an order. You are there to create relationships. They might turn into something, they might not. The important thing is to understand that you are not there to get sales. Your goal is to be someone who others want to know better. It helps to have a quick overview of what your company does so that when they ask you can respond, but the emphasis should be entirely on building relationships.
Your enthusiasm can be one of the best ways to be remembered by others. People love to be around those who are genuinely passionate about what they do. Before the event, think of some quick things you can mention that might make your connection be memorable, such as a story of how you went out of your way to help a customer in the recent past, or what thrills you the most about what you do. This way, when you are asked, you won’t have a deer-in-the-headlights response as you try to think of something. Make sure you get others to share their own passions by asking things like what they like best about their job.
Be interested more than interesting
People are more likely to remember you, and to think of you as a great conversationalist, if you listen twice as much as you talk. Smile and ask questions in a warm, inviting way. Then make sure you pay attention to the responses. Far too many people are so busy thinking of the next thing they plan to say that they never really listen to what others are saying. By listening, you’ll immediately stand out. The most successful networkers are good at making other people feel special. Look people in the eye, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss.
Make sure to follow up after the event with those who you would like to build a deeper relationship with. I like to write down brief notes about each key person related to things they mentioned at the event so that I can follow up in a meaningful way. For example, if someone tells me that they are a huge fan of Elon Musk, I’ll occasionally send them news articles that they might not be aware of to let them know that I was paying attention.