We all know that it's not always what you know, but also who you know, which is why these tips for a networking event are essential for furthering your career. If you're tired of feeling like an awkward turtle at professional networking events and long to navigate the room with a sense of confidence and professionalism, then take a look at these extremely helpful tips below.
1. Do Your Research
Researching the potential attendees of the event is a one of the essential tips for a networking event. Often times, attendees of networking events are able to see the invited and/or confirmed guests of the event. Armed with the names of the people you'll be networking with and the power of the internet, you will effectively be able to dig into the backgrounds of the people you're bound to meet. Knowing about a recent article someone has published or a start-up project they've recently become involved in will make for great conversation, even if you don't personally know someone. Moreover, people will be impressed at your confidence and flattered that you chose to research them in the first place.
2. Business Cards
This one is almost a no-brainer. Not only do business cards help you look more professional, but they also offer a quick way for you to exchange information with the new faces you encounter. While giving out your business card is important, it is probably more important to ask for the business cards of others to keep in touch for future endeavors. Probably the most awkward experience I've had with business cards is deciding when or if I should hand one out. I usually just say "Hey, can I give you my business card?" when I feel the conversation is coming to an end, then following that up with "Would you mind sharing your business card with me?" Remember, it's a networking event. People are there to mix and mingle professionally. People will not be alarmed if you attempt to actually network while there.
3. Find Someone You Recognize
Navigating around a room of uncharted waters is a lot easier if you can jump in with a person you recognize. Try to locate a familiar face in the crowd as soon as you get to the gathering in order to gradually get your feet wet. The person doesn't have to be your bff. Maybe you recognize them from another networking event years back. Or maybe it's a secretary you've passed on the way to an interview once before. Regardless of who it may be, re-introduce yourself and spark up a conversation. Even if the person doesn't recognize you, having a conversation with them will be good preparation for the next tip: jumping into random conversations with strangers.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Jump in Random Conversations
Do not forget the goal of all networking events: to mingle with your peers in hopes of furthering your professional network. Of course, this requires you to step out of your comfort zone and speak to strangers. To effectively do this, I often look at the pockets of people engaged in conversation like a game of double dutch. I focus on the particular group I want to join, wait for the perfect moment, then hop into the conversation. Waiting for a moment when everyone is laughing at a joke or possibly announcing who they are/what they do is perfect for working your way into the conversation. Be sure to meaningfully add to the conversation once you get into it as well. Only talking about yourself will get quickly become annoying to others, so make sure you're asking questions and getting to know the people around you.
I was once told by someone who knew me personally that when it came to interviewing, I did not smile enough, which is totally opposite of how much I smile on a regular basis. What should I be smiling about, I thought. Interviews are serious business, right? The same could be said of networking events. However, I quickly realized that a smile shows you're pleasant, approachable, and happy to be where you are. If you feel awkward or super uptight, try smiling. Not the creepy lost-in-space smile, but a genuine life-is-good smile. More people will be willing to approach you or speak with you based on a simple smile. Plus, you'll naturally feel better regardless of how uncomfortable networking events usually may are for you.
6. Always Have Food or Drink in Hand
Probably the best tip for a networking event I have ever been given is this one. So, you've done all your research. You've packed your business cards, found a familiar face, smiled, and jumped into random conversations. But even with all those tips, you still feel awkward when you run out of things to talk about or people unexpectedly walk away. Although you probably feel more awkward than you actually look, you can fill in those awkward moments by taking a bite out of some finger food or taking a sip of your drink. Running low on things to talk about? Take a sip of your drink to make the silence less awkward. Did everyone seemingly migrate to another group conversation? Fear not. Simply take a bite of your cheese and crackers and move on to the next conversation as well.
Now that you've artfully mastered a networking event, what's next? As a rule of thumb, I send a "nice meeting you" email to the people I felt I had a good connection with or who I wish to know more about. Emailing (or calling) people the following day is great, considering you're still fresh in their minds. If you wait too long, they may not even remember who you were. Try to set up a time to meet for coffee or lunch in the future. Also, check LinkedIn and add your new peers to your professional network to keep a face to the name of the people you're speaking with. Networking is useless if you do not keep in contact and follow-up with the people you meet, so don't be afraid to reach out and meet-up with these professionals in the future.
Now that you have some helpful tips for networking at the next big event, go forth in the world and multiply your professional contacts. You could meet your next co-worker, boss, or even employee at one of these events, so always put your best foot forward and make the best first impression that you possibly can. Remember, you only have one opportunity to make a FIRST impression, so use these tips to your advantage. What are some tips you find helpful while networking? Comment and let me know!