Does this sound familiar: you arrive at an industry event and suddenly realize you don’t recognize anyone? Your hands start to get clammy. Your throat goes dry. You’ve never been good at this. You’re certain you’re going to say the wrong thing. Don’t fear! These networking hacks can help you become an expert at working the room.
1. Do some homework
When it comes to networking events, you should have an idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish before you get there. Maybe you’re looking for a job and want to make connections at companies. Or maybe you’re looking for new clients for your start-up venture. Think about the kinds of connections which would help you achieve that.
If the event organizers provide an attendee list, a little sleuthing on LinkedIn beforehand could also help you identify people to make connections with at the event.
2. Remember everyone’s a little nervous
No one is born great at networking; it takes practice. And not even the most-outgoing extrovert enjoys showing up at an event where they know no one. Use that to your advantage! Approach someone else standing on their own. Not sure what to say? Just introduce yourself and ask them what they do, or why they came to the event. They’ll be relieved they’re not standing alone anymore and eager to talk to you.
3. Ask people about themselves
So, you’ve introduced yourself, but now you’re not sure what to say? Most people love to talk about themselves. When someone tells you what they do, ask them what that entails, or how long they’ve been at their company.
If your conversations turns to more personal matters, you can also follow up and ask them which rock climbing gym they go to, or whether they liked the speaker at the event. Afraid that it will mean you won’t get to tell them about what you do? Don’t worry!
People generally reciprocate and show interest in people who are interested in them.
4. Make a connection
Up to now, you’ve just been meeting people and establishing rapport. When it comes to effective networking, you’ll need to go a step further.
At its best, networking allows you to help others while building your network of people to call on when you need help. Think about what you can offer the person you’re speaking to — even if it has nothing to do with your current position. It could be a restaurant recommendation, an introduction to a colleague, or an article you think they’ll find interesting. Don’t dismiss someone just because there aren’t any common business interests now. You might be able to connect with them later for something that will benefit you both.
5. How to politely disengage from conversations
After you’ve made a connection, remember there are likely other people at the event you could try connecting with too. So, how do you disengage without being rude?
Easy! Networkers know part of why you attend an event is to circulate and meet many people. Tell your new connection you were glad to meet them, and give them your business or personal card. After that, you might excuse yourself to go to get a drink or some food. You can even make a joke and say that the two of you should probably keep circulating or you might get kicked out of the networking event for doing it wrong.
6. How to spot and approach people who are good connections
Often, people have name tags at events like these that include their job titles. You might look for someone who is in HR or is in charge of communications. Approach them and introduce yourself, but don’t jump into reciting your resume or your elevator pitch right away.
Start with small talk first about the event or a positive news story you might have heard recently about their company. Then mention that you’ve always wanted to work for their company or that you’re wondering if they need help with their social media strategy.
Make sure to exchange cards to follow up later.
7. Follow up
Networking is only useful if you cultivate the connections you make. Reach out to your new contacts on LinkedIn afterwards, or shoot them an e-mail. Ask if they would be willing to meet for coffee for an informational interview, or if you could send along a more information on your business.
If you can follow these steps, you’ll improve your networking game, which can help you advance your career or venture. After a few networking successes, it may even be easier to relax and enjoy yourself at these events.