Networking is a way of life for many people. For others, it may seem like a chore.
Depending on your profession or involvement in your community or organization, attending various parties and events may be required. Doing your homework about the event and the people who might be there will help you acclimate.
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 shake some hands!
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 instruct students to try this technique: "As you enter the networking event, silently affirm to yourself, 'I own this room.'" (Feedback on this attitude changer is overwhelmingly positive, as those who try it find themselves naturally moving into good posture and realize they are 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. Or simply offer your hand, smile and introduce yourself.
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 event, and you may have prepared by jotting down possible conversation topics for the occasion. (Though the card is in your pocket or handbag, the memory of writing the topics down makes them easily accessible in your mind at just the right time.)
If shyness or a lack of confidence has taken charge, make a game of meeting new people. Pick a number of people you want to meet at a certain event. Let's say five people. Once you've met five new people, you can relax and maybe meet some more.
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.
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!" as you shake hands.
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.)
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 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 being "etiquette-ful!"