Let's be honest: there's nothing natural or normal about walking into a room full of people you don't know and attempting to make meaningful connections. But you can take comfort in knowing that most of the other people in the room are picking up on the same vibe (hint: that's why these events often come with open bars).
As awkward as conversing with total strangers may be, it's also an essential part of building your business network. So how do you walk confidently into a networking event and make a lasting impression? Here are some of our best networking tips to help you better navigate any networking event :
- Make Eye Contact: when you're feeling out of place, it's easy to stare at your hands, your drink, or the floor when talking to someone. Take the time to connect with the person you are speaking to by making eye contact and maintaining that contact. It's so easy to get distracted mid-sentence but avoid the temptation2.
- Listen: do you find that you're so nervous about what to say next that you aren't actively listening? Instead of getting wrapped up in your own thoughts, focus on what the person in front of you is saying. If you really listen, it's easy to ask questions.
- Make it meaningful: in his legendary business book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggests picking one person out of a crowd to really connect with. This person doesn't have to be the most important person in the room, but find someone you can relate to and give your undivided attention to that person. Think quality connections over quantity.
- Find human opportunities: did someone in front of you just spill a drink? Does the person next to you have toilet paper on her shoe? Is the person that just came in sweating and running late? These are all excellent opportunities to start a conversation. Comment on those “human situations" in a positive and relational way. Not only will you help that person feel more at ease, you'll make a lasting impression.
- Don't cut people off: there's nothing more rude than speaking over someone. Even if you have the best idea in the world, or you have something really important to say, wait. Let the person speaking finish their thought.
- Prep a little elevator pitch: take some time before the event to think about how you want to introduce yourself. The main goal at a networking event is to talk about what you do, how it relates to someone else and where you want to go with your career . But chances are you'll be hard-pressed to eloquently relay that information unless you practice your pitch first. Spend some time rehearsing your own sales pitch and try it out on a few people.
- Do some prep work: depending on the type of event, it might be a good idea to do a bit of homework prior to the event date. Find out who is attending, who you might be speaking with or on a panel with, who you should know about, and who you want to connect with. It helps to have some background details when you want to relate to someone.
- Bridge the connection: business cards still exist, but a better way of communicating post-event is through social media. Include your Twitter handle on your name tag. Connect with the people you meet on LinkedIn (of course you'll want to make sure you have the ultimate LinkedIn profile first) or send a follow-up email. If you really make a great connection, ask someone to coffee or a business lunch.
Companies pay more attention to networking skills now than ever before. The ability to successfully connect with people at an event demonstrates soft skills - i.e., the ability to communicate, think creatively, and converse intelligently.
The best way to become a networking pro is to attend a number of different events and to practice communicating efficiently. Eventually, networking will become second nature and you'll make important connections while giving your career a boost.