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Ten top tips for working the room at networking events

Networking and attending networking events is a big part of many careers. But is it fun?

For some people it is the highlight of their day, for others it is a chore, for some it is a source of real discomfort. To walk into a room of strangers can be daunting. Some say we were successful as homo-sapiens because we clustered in tribes and learned to be highly suspicious of people we do not know – they could be friend or foe and better to stay wary or even frightened until you know.So maybe networking events play to our darkest DNA fears, but the benefits of having a wide circle of contacts means we need to find a way through.

The big mistakes

We need to be honest, if you are a shy introvert, networking events can be very uncomfortable but if you do the following you might as well not be there:

  • Charging for the bar and sticking there hoping another introvert will find you

  • Standing in the corner looking like a lost lamb

  • Grabbing a brochure or magazine – or your mobile – and finding a sofa to curl into

  • Finding a kind person who is chatty and following them like that lost lamb who has found a friendly sheep

  • Downing several glasses of wine on an empty stomach for Dutch courage (slurring is not a good networking technique)

  • Staying for five minutes and saying you have to go as you race for the door with escalating relief

  • Hiding in the toilets so at least you can say you attended the event

All of the above are a waste of your time and energy. So how do you get Sassy when working the room?

 

  • 1. Get real about the reason

Networking events are about simply being nice to other people and seeing if you have any interests, needs or goals in common. Networking events, unless they are positioned as sales events, are not for selling or touting for business. In fact, selling in a crowd is often frowned on by other guests and you are likely to find yourself the lost lamb in the corner.

So shift your perspective – see the event as an opportunity to just meet some nice people, learn something, maybe make a friend and to be kind to others.

 

  • 2. Prepare

One of the biggest fears is having nothing to say. So research they type of people who will be there and anticipate their interests. If it is business networking and you know which people will be there, it is absolutely essential that you research them through Google and LinkedIn so that you have something to say to them. Nothing impresses more than you having the latest information on their business.

Other preparation will mean reading the papers, knowing your host and, yes, reading the sports pages if there are going to be men there.

 

  • 3. Walk in with sass

If you shuffle through the door looking like prey in the savannah you will not look like someone interesting to talk to. So take a deep breath, smile and walk in with purpose. Your body language is critical here – you need to look confident and the mind body connection will make you feel more self-assured. So keep shoulders down and chin up. Smile again and get through the door.

 

  • 4. Getting into a group

 Some people like to head for the drinks as it gives them time to scope the room. But whether you do this or not, you need to get into a group. Look for loosely formed group where there is an easy gap between people so that you can slip in. If they are strangers then do not try any fancy stuff like bombing their conversation. Keep it simple. Just smile and ask if you can join them. In twenty years of networking I have never had a group say not. Instead people will welcome you, give their names and say what they were talking about. Then you join in.

 

  • 5. Be kind

If you see a lost lamb – stand aside, smile and ask them to join your group. You will impress with your generosity and make an instant friend. If you believe in ‘what goes around comes around’ then it is good to bank you kindness for future events.

 

  • 6. Be interesting

A common fear is having nothing to say. The good news is that people who ask questions and just listen are rated as more interesting than people who talk a lot. So use open questions to ask about people’s business, job, holidays – anything. Get them talking about themselves and they will assume you are fascinated by them. You might be – but if not, you are still making a good impression.

Remember the golden rules – avoid religion, politics and asking handsome men if they are married!

 

  • 7. Move

It is all too easy to stick in one place, with one group and get comfy. But networking is about meeting many people. So you should aim to move approximately every 10 to 15 minutes. Again keep it simple. Avoid staring round the room looking for where you can run when someone is talking to you. Far better to reach a point in the conversation where there is a natural break and make your move. Again, keep it simple with a polite reason for moving. No - do not say you need another drink or announce for the tenth time that evening that you are going to the ladies. You look like a lush or a victim of cystitis. Instead, say you need to move because you are looking for someone, or because you are there to meet as many people as possible. Honesty is your best policy and politeness will make it easier. Always say you will see them later so you do not look as if you are escaping.

 

  • 8. Keep notes

If you take a business card, put a note on it. There is nothing worse than waking up the next morning with a pocket of cards and no idea who they are. It makes step nine impossible. If you promise something, put it on the card so you cannot forget.

 

  • 9. Follow-up

When I train women to network the biggest mistake they often report is failing to follow-up. Networking is about creating a wide range of contacts so having a nice drink, a good chat and a laugh – then never contacting them again is a waste of your energy. Within two days of the event you should have sent every person you met, and took a card from, with a ‘Nice to meet you’ message. This is not stalking – it is polite follow-through. If they are a potential business contact then get straight onto LinkedIn and connect.

 

  • 10. Keep going

Even if you are a networking virgin and dread it, the key to success is to keep doing it. After a while you will work that room with absolute sass and even enjoy it. Even better, the more you network, the more people you meet and the more likely it is that you will walk into a crowd of friendly faces – and not feel like little lamb lost ever again.

 

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