Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, networking is a necessary evil, unless of course you work in a cave and are required to stay in said cave and never leave. Most of us in the professional world need to attend lunches, evening soirees and breakfast events to grow our network and to build mutually beneficial relationships, this is also referred to as business development. It isn’t that hard right? You just show up, have a couple drinks, make conversation, and BOOM-a great relationship is born. Wouldn’t it be great if it was really that easy?
For most of us, not anyone at 834 of course, attending a networking event takes you away from your to-do list and almost always includes some sort of awkward interaction, avoidance of that person you forgot to call back and the handing out of a lot of business cards.
Here are a few tips to prepare you for that next breakfast, lunch, dinner, program, baseball game, etc.
1. Get a clue (or at least a business card)
Ask yourself this: what is the point of these events? What do you want to get out of it? Do you want to meet new people? Business develop? Make connections with people in your industry? Or do you want to hold up the bar on the far side of the room? Not that we are against an adult beverage or two at a networking event, but if you are going to go, then talk to people. Do some research and don’t be lazy about it. Check the Facebook event, who is going? Connect with them before the event and share via your social networks that you will be attending and are ready to mingle. Also, don’t show up to networking events without your business cards. These are one of your main tools, along with your personality, for people to remember you. You want others to follow up and connect with you after the event, so hand these bad boys out like candy at a parade, just be sure not to throw them at people.
2. Hello, may name is…Slim Shady?
We get it. It’s not always easy to approach people you don’t know, everyone feels like an idiot approaching a perfect stranger and saying ‘hello, my name is…’ Honestly who wouldn’t prefer to be at home in their sweats catching up on the latest Breaking Bad? The good news is that you’re not alone. Believe it or not, there are many others who share the same anxiety, some of them are probably at the same exact networking event as you (check the bar). Here is what works for us 1) If alcohol is available, get a drink. Then buy the person next to you a drink…boom you just started a convo; 2) Bring a friend, approach groups together and introduce yourself and your ‘colleague’; 3) If you are running solo, walk up to a group and say ‘hello, my name is such and such and I like unicorns or turtles’ (okay, that last one is a joke but say something memorable or funny – does anyone remember the turtle kid? : – ). Everyone is at an event to make new connections, so don’t stand there staring at a wall.
3. Get a drink or two; not 10
Often times there is an open bar at networking events (the evening ones, that is…although who wouldn’t want a screwdriver or mimosa at 7:00 a.m.) as they often take place after 5 p.m. and people are winding down after a long day of work. It’s totally kosher to casually have a few drinks and be social, but be conscious of how much alcohol you ingest; no one wants to be ‘that guy’. If you don’t feel like drinking, that’s fine too…grab a club soda on the rocks with a lemon or lime garnish and you will still “fit in” without the alcohol factor.
4. Just shut-up already
When meeting new people, you want to talk about yourself a little bit, but don’t over do it. Balance out the conversation and let everyone around you talk, too. Show a sincere interest in what others are talking about by asking questions, even if you really don’t care what they are saying…fake it. Refrain from being a ‘one-upper’, you know the guy that has to top everything the guy before him said. That guy is annoying, don’t do that. Listen, say something funny, listen some more, hand out your card and then walk away.
Want to avoid the awkward? Get in a little “stalking” before the event you plan to attend. Find out who RSVP’d via Facebook, EventBrite and connect with them on LinkedIn. Send them a message and let them know you are going to be at the event and look forward to meeting them. Now, you know someone. Do that multiple times and you have multiple people to talk to. It is like a good math problem, one + one + one = multiple connections.
6. It is called mutually beneficial
We thrive off of mutually beneficial relationships at 834. I mean, if you do something nice for someone else (it is called the golden rule), such as connecting them with someone, or inviting them to attend a lunch with you or just sending them a thank-you note…they will often return the favor. Be helpful, humble, and giving. Believe it or not; it feels good to help others and nice people finish first…at least in the 834 book.
7. Don’t over think it
I know we provided you with multiple tips to consider before going to a networking event; but our best advice is to not over think it. Know where you are going (kind of key), purpose of the event; then grab a drink or a cup of coffee and approach someone. If you are uncomfortable, open with – “Hey, this is my first time at one of these things; so I am awkwardly approaching people and saying hello. Hello.” Be funny, it is your best offense.
It really is all about who you know. So know people. Lots of people.