Coming to one of our networking nights this summer? Don’t know how to even start to make connections? Fear not, here are some tips to make the most of your networking opportunities.
Make a good impression
When you’re in a networking event, you need to be the best version of yourself. Doing so helps those who meet you to remember you and makes it easier for them to be your advocate or champion. Here are a couple of ways to bring out your best self.
Be helpful. Ask what they’re looking to achieve with the networking event and if applicable, offer to make an introduction or share knowledge you have about the topic.
Be yourself and be honest. People can often tell when you’re trying to fib so don’t invite distrust by pretending to be someone you are not.
Be warm and open. This doesn’t mean to hug everybody; it means listening intentionally (to understand, not to practice what you’ll say next), smiling, and approaching every interaction with goodwill.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Ask questions when you don’t know or understand something, don't just nod along while standing on the sidelines. If you appreciate what someone said, say so! If you tell someone you’ll email them, do so!
Be clear, specific and straightforward. When you ask open questions with details, you can help keep the conversation going and avoid awkward short answers. For example, don’t ask, ‘how’s it going?’ (answer: it’s going); ask, ‘what was the best thing you read this week?’
Leave Debbie Downer at the door. Stay away from complaining, negativity, gossip, judgment, exaggeration, and blaming. It's not about being fake-happy, but rather about being relaxed and easy to talk to.
How do you know who and how to approach?
In our networking events we often sit at a table, and our team takes care of the ice breakers and awkward introductions. If you find yourself in another networking event unaided, and have no idea how to ‘enter’ a conversation, use the 1-2-3 principle. That is, approach those by themselves first, then groups of two and finally groups of three. Here’s how:
Look first for people standing by themselves. Often, these ‘groups of one’ are the most welcoming since they’re often shy, so go ahead and approach them. Use an ice breaker, and introduce yourself.
When approaching groups of two people, approach first groups who are standing in a V formation. Their bodies are slightly open towards opposite sides, which usually means that they’re open to someone else joining their conversation. Just slide in the middle of the V, make eye contact with both parties, smile, and introduce yourself.
If you find a group of two people and their bodies are facing each other straight on, that usually means they’re engaged in a semi-private conversation. Fear not, you can also approach them. Use the ‘may I cut in’ trick seen in movies: approach one of them from the side, gently tap them in the arm and ask for permission to join in. A simple ‘do you mind if I join your conversation?’ will suffice. Nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes and introduce you to the other party or parties. If they say no, it’s very likely that they’re discussing a private issue and in that case, just move on to the next group.
When approaching groups of three or more, find an open space and use the same ‘may I cut in approach,’ slide in, make eye contact with everyone in the group and join the conversation.
So now that you’re in the group, what do you do next?
You want people to remember who you are. Standing next to someone or only nodding won’t get you noticed. Although listening in is okay, but do your best to participate.
If you’re joining a group of one, use an icebreaker to start the conversation. You can compliment a piece of their outfit (or their glasses, phone, etc.), and ask about more about it. Other icebreakers are easy questions such as ‘What attracted you to this event?’ or ‘Have you ever been to an event like this?.’ If you’re really shy, you can admit to that since the other person may be shy also. For example, saying ‘Events like these are so intimidating to me. Are they easy for you?’
If you’re joining a conversation of two people or more, just ask ‘What are we talking about?’ and someone will fill you in. Ask simple follow up questions such as ‘That’s interesting, why is that?’ or ‘I’ve never heard about that’ or ‘Can you elaborate?’ to help the conversation going.
The key to introducing yourself is to be brief and give them just enough bits of information to get them to ask more. Also, people like to interact with humans, not robots, so make sure your intro reflects your fun, sassy and clever personality. Here’s a simple fill-in-the-blank script and some samples.
My name’s Rihanna. I’m a veteran singer in the entertainment industry. I excel at making my listeners feel like I’m the only girl in the world. In my free time, I enjoy making umbrellas and asking for my money back. My best friends would describe me as obsessed with diamonds. I’m here to get more fans and weed out any rude boys.
My name’s Sarah. I’m a digital marketer in the insurance industry. I excel at helping companies convert passive audiences into customers. In my free time, I enjoy live music and spending time with my dog. My friends describe me as the best board game partner ever. Now I am looking for a digital coordinator role with a company that wants to supercharge their promotional efforts.
My name’s Lane. I’m a sales rep in the tech industry. I recently helped my division exceed their sales forecast by 25%. In my free time, I enjoy watching documentaries and biking. My clients describe me as dependable and hardworking. My friends describe me as the best wing-woman in downtown Toronto. I’m here to meet new people and make friends.
Now that you have given enough information to pique their curiosity, pause, look them in the eye and wait. They will ask you questions or tell you something about themselves.
You have listened, talked, and bonded. Now what?
Your goal in a networking event is to make and receive at least one introduction or follow-up meeting from one of your fellow attendees. Yes, it’s about giving, before taking. To do that, you need to make meaningful connections.
Stay tuned for more tips in upcoming blog posts and newsletters. We’ll be covering topics such as how to ask for an informational interview, how to follow up and how to follow through. Also, follow us in Twitter https://twitter.com/ywibto and LinkedIn https://ca.linkedin.com/company/ywibto for more info and resources about rocking the networking game.
Written by Sandra Riano