How To Navigate Your Next Networking Event
Depending on your personality the words “networking event” can either excite or terrify you. Whether you love them or dread them, networking events can be very beneficial to the growth of your business. Therefore, it is important to know how to navigate your way through a successful networking event. Here we go . . .
Start with preparation. You wouldn’t set sail on the high seas without planning accordingly. The same holds true with networking events. Be prepared. Know the “rules” by researching the event you are about to attend. Confirm your registration, the directions, the start and end times, whether there is a fee or not, food served, an open bar, etc.
Next, be sure to bring the right gear. When sailing you’ll need a life vest. At a networking event you’ll need your business cards and lots of them. You will also need to dress professionally and comfortably. Climate is not your friend. You don’t want to sweat or shiver the whole time. Wear layers and make sure you have pockets for easy access to your business cards. Wear a name tag if you have one. If not, be sure to make one when you get there, but first look to see how everyone else has made them. Are there just first names, last names, both names, business names, or are there practically complete CVs on everyone’s chests? Know the “rules.”
Once you walk into the event the real navigating begins. Check in and talk to the organizer when you arrive and thank them. They can help point you in the right direction . . . namely to the bar. Climate may be your enemy, but the bar is your lighthouse in a storm. There is usually a line at the bar and standing in line is one of the best places to strike up a conversation with a stranger without feeling awkward. Once you are out of line, standing near the exit of the bar is also a great place to anchor yourself, but not for too long.
Chart your course around the room looking for people sitting or standing alone and join them. Ask them questions about themselves and try to do more listening than speaking. Make and keep eye contact with whomever you are speaking to, but don’t have a staring contest. Tilt your head, nod, and acknowledge what they are saying. Don’t just push your own agenda. After about 5 to 10 minutes max, it is time to raise the anchor. Tell them it was great to meet them, exchange cards and then move on gracefully. Better yet, if you were speaking to someone one-on-one, invite them to move on with you – instant Wingman/Wingwoman!
As you walk around feel free to join a group mid-conversation if there is a break in the chatter. They may be looking for an interruption. However, don’t try to join a group of 2 people conversing as they may be talking about something personal. Instead, stick to groups of 4 or more. If uncomfortable walking around, stand at a cocktail table in the middle of the room, not on the sidelines, and let others come to you.
Remember to always keep one hand free to shake hands or to exchange business cards. Eating or drinking (especially too much) is not your goal. Be sure to have a pen handy to jot down notes on the back of people’s cards or write something on yours. Be conscious of your body language with your arms relaxed, not crossed, your head up and a smile on your face.
Don’t cut your voyage short. It's best to stay until the end of the event, especially if there are any door prizes being given out or announcements being made. Someone who wanted to talk to you may not have been able to get to you until the end. When others leave early, the thinning of the crowd often makes it easier for some people to connect.
Don’t overstay your welcome either. When it’s over, it’s over. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay there! Thank the host and ask about any upcoming events and then leave.
Before you lose your sea legs, go through the business cards you collected and sort them. Jot down any notes to help you remember the person behind the card (tall, red dress, blue tie, etc.) and set them aside for follow up. Within 48 hours of the event, send an email or give a call to anyone you would like to further connect with.
Hopefully if you follow these tips, your next networking event will be smooth sailing. Bon voyage!