Attending a networking event can be an intimidating prospect! As a recruiter for the past 10 years, I have learned a thing or two about navigating around a room full of business professionals that I don’t know on the hunt for mutually beneficial connections. If a networking event isn’t your natural habitat and opening up to total strangers isn’t among your strengths, there are a number of steps you can take both before and after the event to make it better suit your style.
Bill’s 8 Steps to a Successful Networking Event
Before the event:
Step 1: Choose an event that fits your personality. I personally enjoy happy hour networking events. People seem more casual, gregarious and willing to exchange information. But, a more structured setting, such as a seated lunch hour networking session, might play to your strengths.
Step 2: Invite a friend or a co-worker. It’s always easier to go into an event with someone you know. You’ll have an ally and can feed off each other and introduce one another to more possible connections. I always find that two people can network and work a room together better than one, but don’t use this person as a crutch throughout the event. The goal is to begin to build new relationships.
Step 3: Prepare and practice your introduction. To avoid being tongue-tied when you try to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, prepare an introduction that’s clear, interesting and well delivered. What you say about yourself will depend on the nature of the event, but in any case, it shouldn’t take longer than 8-10 seconds. Although practicing your introduction might at first seem silly and artificial, it will eventually help you make an introduction that sounds natural, confident, and smooth. Here’s an example:
“Hi, my name is Bill Howard and I do accounting and finance search consulting throughout the DC area – and beyond.”
Step 4: Dress professionally, dress to impress. Wear professional clothing, as your attire projects confidence and gives an impression of your success. You may even be complimented on your suit, tie or suspenders!
During the event:
Step 5: Make an entrance. Entering a networking event is the best time to make a great first impression.
There are three people that you always want to be sure to network with at an event: the speaker, the event host or organizer and the person doing registration and sign-in. The registrant at the front door greets everyone and is usually aware of the whereabouts of the host and can point you in their direction. Be sure to chat up the registrar, as this person may be inclined to make introductions! Ask them about the organization, the agenda for the event, get their card, etc. This will allow you to reconnect the next day and perhaps receive suggestions on additional attendees with whom to follow up (i.e. leads!).
Next, you’ll want to scan the room and see if there’s anyone you know. Seeing a familiar face will calm you and be an easy introduction into the crowd. Hopefully, that person is speaking to someone you don’t know and your acquaintance can then introduce you to them. Don’t just head straight for the bar, the buffet or your seat. If you don’t know anyone, find a high-traffic area or place where people seem to be congregating and make your way there. Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room, suggests in her article, “Learn to Talk to Anyone in 10 Minutes or Less” that “the physical act of walking into the event may be the hardest part, especially if you don’t know a soul. So take a deep breath, stand tall and walk into the center of the room, rather than stopping just inside the door to clog traffic or bee-lining for a dark corner.”
Step 6: Work the room. It’s time to work your magic. Make sure you check your attitude at the door. Many of us are shy or nervous about approaching strangers. It’s not always easy to muster the energy to try and connect with people at networking events, that’s why it’s key to get mentally geared up before you even choose the event.
Introducing yourself can be one of easiest parts of networking. If you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to the whole group or even a large dinner table, then you’ll want to use a concise and memorable introduction that describes both what you do and how you can help others. Remember, you know yourself best so be upfront and honest. Here’s an example of something I might say if I met a financial services executive:
“We’ve worked with large financial services firms in the past and have an excellent network of talent who might be a good fit for your company.”
“Helping others with their career goals drives our success at JustinBradley, so we’re always interested in adding to our network of financial professionals. I’d enjoy learning more about your career.”
Making and keeping conversations going can be pretty easy once you’ve introduced yourself. Small talk is highly underrated and you can build a relationship on common ground. Being remembered for a good conversation can be just as powerful as someone remembering your business. Don’t ask all the questions either, make sure you let people know who you are, what you do and why you are at the event. You will also need to be a good listener, make eye contact and use open body language.
Step 7: Ask for a card. Always ask for a business card, even if this person is someone you’ll likely never speak with again. Collecting business cards and making notes on the cards will be the most beneficial part of the networking event.
Susan RoAne gives three reasons why collecting cards is important:
· “The cards you give out aren’t nearly as important as the ones you take in. Sure, give out cards if people ask for them or if you want to reinforce your conversation, but more importantly, get cards from the people you want to follow up with.”
· “You’ll also want to have a pen handy and make some brief notes on the back of their card. This will help you remember them, because a card alone often doesn’t resonate the next day.”
· “Often in conversations we agree to do something like make an introduction or send some information, but then fail to – not because we’re blowing the other person off, but because we simply forget. Your stack of cards with notes becomes your to-do list the next day.”
Don’t forget a pen, but also don’t forget that technology is your friend at a networking event. Use your phone and a note taking application to take brief notes throughout the event. A great alternative (or addition to) asking for a card could be to suggest that the two of you “connect” on LinkedIn. With the LinkedIn app on your phone you can send a connection request right away, while it’s still on the top of your mind.
Step 8: Say goodbye. Saying goodbye is just as important as introducing yourself. Make sure you don’t just disappear. Thank the host and the speaker, touch base with the people you spoke with earlier in the event, briefly reaffirm any commitments you’ve made and update with the person you came with to see if there was anyone you missed.
And last, but not least, don’t forget how important it is for you to physically move around and about when you’re at a networking event. You can’t work a room when you’re sitting down. Good luck!!
In writing this article, I used some information from the following sources:
Business.com, “Making the Most of Networking Events – How to Work a Room.” Business.com, April 21, 2014. http://www.business.com/guides/making-the-most-of-networking-events-how-to-work-a-room-1127/.
Padgett, Lori, “Effective Networking.” Canadianava.org, July 24th, 2013. http://canadianava.org/effective-networking/
RoAne, Susan, “Learn to Talk to Anyone in 10 Minutes or Less.” Exhibitoronline.com. http://www.exhibitoronline.com/exhibitormagazine/article.asp?ID=516
University of California, Berkley Career Center, “Networking Tips: How To Work A Room.” Career.berkeley.edu, June 18th 2013. https://career.berkeley.edu/article/021011b.stm.
JustinBradley delivers exceptional financial talent. Our three business lines—Recruiting and Interim Staffing; Project Solutions; and Executive Search—provide the right talent for our clients’ finance, accounting, financial systems and business requirements. For more information call 202-457-8400 or visit our website www.justinbradley.com