Making the Most of
a Networking Event

Networking event

Meeting and mingling at a networking event can a dreaded business chore for many people. Choosing to frame your approach ahead of time will create a positive mindset from the very moment you decide you will attend.

The first key to being an effective networker is to look like you're enjoying yourself.  Pull yourself away from the wall, put a smile on your face, and go meet some people!  

Do Your Homework

Research the reason and purpose of the event, including who is coming and what businesses will be represented.  Is there a dress code suggestion?

This information will help you mentally prepare for the networking event and alleviate any dread you might be feeling.  Knowing who might be in attendance will also help you prepare for conversation.  Pro tip: have a notecard in your pocket with a list of ten questions written down to use as conversation starters.

On the other side of the card, write down a measurable goal for the event such as, "I will meet 5 new people."  If shyness or a lack of confidence interferes with your evening, you can make a game of it.  Once you've met five new people, you can relax and just have fun -- maybe even meet a few more people!

At the Networking Event

It can feel very awkward to be in a gathering of strangers.  One way to overcome this is to tell yourself they won't be strangers for long.  I often suggest to my students to try a self talk technique:  As you enter the networking event, silently affirm to yourself, "I own this room!" or "I belong here!"  (Feedback on these attitude changers is overwhelmingly positive, as persons find themselves naturally moving into good posture, and feeling in charge of their own experience.) 

Walk around the event and see if there are opportunities to engage anyone in conversation.  Odds are there are others attending alone who would love to speak to someone.

One of the easiest places to meet people is at the food table or the bar.  You can always ask a question or make a positive comment to begin a dialogue.  After a few exchanges, go ahead and introduce yourself.  

An always rule: If food and drinks are served, always have both, as others who have both and are drinking and nibbling will be more comfortable.  Even if you do not intend to eat, place at least two bites on your plate.  Next, get your drink and place on your plate, which is held in the left hand.

Let your introduction lead you further into conversation.  You may know some of the same people, do business with the same companies, or your children may attend the same school, or you may be in the same classes.  You have a purpose for attending the networking event, and the questions you prepared mean you are ready to get to know your fellow attendees. 

Successful Mingling

While at the bar or after you've visited the food table, you begin a conversation with someone.  But out of the wee corner of your eye, you notice another person standing alone near you.  When the current conversation leads to a question or a pause for you to comment, toss it to the new person and draw him into the conversation. 

Make eye contact with the person you are with and say something like, "Let's get another opinion," and as you turn to include the other person, asking "What do you think about . . ."  will pull that person into your conversation and a threesome has been formed.  Use names as you speak to each person.  This helps you retain their names and keeps you on top of your listening. 

When you see someone you know, a simple "hello" is all it takes to pull that person over and you can immediately introduce him or her to the person(s) with whom you were first speaking.  In a group, never let anyone remain un-introduced.

If you want to move on to mingle and you don't want to include the person with whom you are currently conversing, be courteous and find someone new for your present conversation partner, especially if you've learned she doesn't know others at this event. 

You might mention that there's someone else you want to meet up with and suggest that on your way you both head towards the food table for more appetizers.  As you part ways, you'll leave a friendly impression, especially if  you include her name in parting.  "Elizabeth, it was great to meet you!" 

Sometimes when you want to exit a conversation, it works to pull in another person, make introductions, then excuse yourself with something pleasant like, "I'll let you two continue this conversation.  Please excuse me, I'll catch up with you later."

Now you're free to roam and mingle more, focusing on your goal in coming to the event.  Be sure to thank the host for inviting you.  (And yes, a thank-you email is a good thing afterwards.)

Following Up

Networking is only as effective as you make it.  You're bound to meet some really nice people at gatherings and events, and depending on the nature of the event, you will want to follow up in a day or two.  Exchanging business cards offers this opportunity.  

Send an email or call to say you enjoyed meeting them.  You might even mention something in your conversation that pertains to a current event, or information you've come across.  If it was mentioned that you should meet again, make it happen.

With your new acquaintances' permission, join them on social media.  This is an easy way to stay in touch and continue to find common ground.

Make networking fun and not only will you enjoy it more, you'll help other people enjoy it, too.  Now that's making the most of a networking event!

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