Have you ever found yourself at a networking event where everybody in the room seems to be talking and connecting but you? Your heels hurt while you’re standing in line at the bar and your stomach is growling because it’s past six and your quick, light lunch was hours ago. Why didn’t you just go home and curl up with a book instead of coming here? You know it’s important to be here and keep building your network of contacts, but deep down all you want is to turn around and go home and take your shoes off.
You press on, have a forced conversation or two, exchange some business cards, and maneuver your way out of an awkward interaction with a group who’ve had too much to drink. Eventually you settle into the back row to listen to the confident guest speaker who leaves you wondering how you’ll ever reach her position — she’s done it all: startup, baby, and funding, all at the same time, while you struggle to find the courage to take even the first step toward your own goals.
We all have nights when we’re too tired or distracted after the event to follow up with an email, or even a LinkedIn request. Despite the best intentions, the business cards can soon vanish between the invoices and paperwork on your desk. Maybe you tell yourself: “Well at least I got out there!”
Everyone has a bad night, now and then.
Yet if you follow these rules, you’re sure to have a more enjoyable and successful evening of networking:
1. Be selective.
Go to events that inspire a crowd that you can relate to, and align with whatever you hope to get out of networking. Sign up for a few industry digest newsletters and survey your friends’ experiences. Ask them why they liked past events and what they are expecting from the next one. This helps you develop a good sense for the events that are right for you.
2. Get there on time and make sure you have a healthy blood sugar level to provide the energy for engaging conversation after a long day at work.
Snack before you start talking because it’s unlikely you’ll have time to venture back to the buffet once you start meeting people.
3. Choose your beverage carefully.
With a glass of wine, you can always start with a toast or use it as an ice-breaker. Plus, it might help to put you at ease. But don’t overdo it — you don’t want to lose focus, or slur your words!!
“How Can I Help You?” can take a lot of the awkwardness out of an introduction. Pay it forward!
4. Don’t be shy.
Go ahead and join a table or a group of people, even if they’re deep in conversation. You can always ask someone: “Do you mind if I join you?” Now this person becomes your advocate. Remember, you’re at a networking event — the purpose is to connect, so don’t forget to introduce yourself as soon as there’s a break. You can quickly learn about a larger group of people and you’ll naturally continue the conversation with an ally who seems to be a good match.
5. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself if the conversation really isn’t going anywhere.
Nobody has to feel insulted. Ask for a business card and then take a break to quickly freshen up in the bathroom.
6. Practice your elevator pitch.
As programmed as this may sound: practice 10 times in front of a mirror at home how you would introduce yourself. Say “hi” and tell people who you are and what you are working on. Ask yourself why the other person should be interested enough to want to know more about you. Avoid small talk. Instead, introduce topics that have some opportunity for a deeper discussion.
“88% of business cards that are handed out will be thrown in the trash in less than a week.”
7. Even while you’re still speaking to someone, make a mental note as to how you’ll follow up.
If you take their business card, you can write directly on it to remember when you met. Or take a screenshot of their LinkedIn Profile so you can (later) go back on your photo folder to find when and where you met. Apps like CamCard allow you to take a photo of a business card and sync that information directly to your phone.
8. Then do it! Follow up within 24 hours by writing your new contacts a short note via email or LinkedIn.
Add where you met and what you talked about or what you promised to follow up on to the message. This will make it much easier for you to reach out and find them later.
How do you make the most of your networking events? Share your tips and icebreakers in the comments.