Learn to make the most of your time when you find yourself in a room full of people. Learn the dos and don'ts of in-person networking, and get insider tips on how to be successful at any networking event.
- Even seasoned networkers can be reluctant to work a room. Maybe you're an introvert and feel less effective in crowded rooms, or maybe you worry about getting stuck in a corner talking to someone you don't enjoy or respect. Don't worry, after this you'll know how to get the most out of networking at big gatherings. Whether you know most of the people in the room or none at all, I'll share some easy tips to help you build real relationships even in this most artificial setting.
If you have an intense networking opportunity in front of you, like a conference, reception, or reunion, and you want to maximize your networking effectiveness, you need to plan ahead. Before the event, you need to plan. Set your goals. Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn? For me, having fun and meeting one person I'm excited to know is a win. I get extra credit if I feel like I made the event before for someone else.
Ideally, you want to have a formal role at the event, introducing speakers, greeting people at the reception desk, acting as host and making sure everyone has someone to talk to. Better yet, maybe you're on the program as a speaker. Having a role makes you an object of interest, attracting others to talk to you. It also gives you an excuse to introduce yourself to people you want to meet, and more importantly, to excuse yourself if you need to move on. "Will you excuse me? "I need to go find our first speaker?" You can also prepare by researching who will be at the event and who you want to meet or reconnect with.
Most events provide a list of registrants in advance. Use LinkedIn to do background research and make a list of your top priorities. You might even prepare questions to ask. The day of the event, eat something before you go. You don't want to waste time at the buffet table but you can get a snack or drink to keep busy if you need a break from all the chatting. Get into the zone. You might want to exercise early in the day or just stretch a bit. It sounds funny, but doing the Superman pose right before you walk in will give you confidence and energy.
When you walk in, take a deep breath, smile, and try to enjoy yourself. Start easy by saying hello to the people you know. Ask them what they're getting out of the event so far or about something you have in common. Making them feel comfortable will make you feel comfortable. If you see someone on your to meet list, approach them. It's okay if they're talking to someone else if their body language is open. Just nod or smile at each until they break in conversation and bring you in.
If their body language is closed and they seem to be having a private or serious conversation, find them later. While with each person, be curious and focused. Learn about them. Share a few tidbits about yourself that might be interesting or relevant, especially things you have in common or ways you might help them. Remember, you're just planting seeds. It's premature to be harvesting fruit. Do not look over their shoulder to see if more important people are available, but spend no more than five minutes with each person.
Then, even if you're having a nice conversation, which hopefully you are since you're being open, warm, and curious, find an easy way to conclude by having something to attend to or offering to get them a drink, or just being direct and saying, "Great to talk to you, I'll let you continue to mingle now "and I'll be sure to follow up." Which brings me to what to do after the event. Follow up immediately. Often I do my follow-ups in my car or hotel room within an hour of the event.
I make notes about who I met and what I learned. I link in with everyone that I enjoyed meeting, sending a note describing our initial conversation and next steps. If I spent time with someone I already know, I send them a note following up on our conversation and indicating next steps too. If appropriate, I add people to my contact management system with reminders to myself of when and how to reach out. This whole follow-up activity never takes more than 30 minutes, sometimes less.
But it's the secret sauce to networking. Keeping notes and being disciplined about follow-up is what makes the difference between a wasted night and a fun and valuable evening building new relationships.
- Seven types of people to have in your network
- Body language and mindset
- Networking tactics
- Working the room
- Asking for referrals
- What events to attend (or not)
- Business networking with personal friends