Networking events and conferences make some people cringe. But even as a sales-focused professional who’s an extroverted introvert (say that five times fast!), I often cringe at them too.
How do you get over the hump to make networking events pleasant and full of meaningful interactions? After all, networking is just people. Lucky for you, they are most likely a part of your microcosm of work. Here a few of the go-to methods that set me at ease.
1. Work the schedule to your favor
I find it most helpful to view the schedule of the event or conference in advance, and highlight the top events that interest me. It’s so much easier to attend seminars and be around people who have similar interest as yourself — and makes for a much smoother conversation. Plus, with a schedule in place, you won’t be running around manic, trying to attend everything.
Once you’ve identified a few key events, if it’s possible, see who’s attending that may be a beneficial connect. Pro Tip: Don’t aim for overcrowded rooms (unless there is someone there you are dying to meet). Instead, pick smaller sessions for a greater chance at 1-on-1 conversations without shouting over a huge crowd. Last year, the Creative Entrepreneurs at Promax was my favorite getaway — and I learned a lot, too.
2. Be unforgettable
If you’ve identified a particular contact you want to speak with, make sure you spend a couple minutes doing your research. A quick LinkedIn browse and Facebook peek may be all you need to find some commonality. Rather than leading with “Hi, I’m Ashley and I’m from Brave Dog,” I find that people remember our brief interactions if I lead with something I learned about them. Example: “Andrew, I know you’re slammed, but I heard through the grapevine that you know Sam. We worked together at X — what a great guy. I just had to meet you as well!” Or, “Your campaign for XYZ was awesome — I actually bought the product for my mom and it’s great to hear that your team did that campaign.” You’ll usually get some great banter about how awesome Sam is or how much they loved the product too. At this point, you’ve eased the conversation and don’t look like a networking shark on a mission.
3. A strong handshake matters
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve received a “dead fish” handshake from both men and women. If you’ve taken the time to walk up to them, make it count. Body language is so important. Starting off with a nice firm handshake is the key to building your own confidence (even if you’re shaking on the inside) and getting the conversation off the ground.
4. If the conversation isn’t flowing, don’t force it
The best working relationships are built on people that vibe well together. When you work with people you enjoy, you’ll naturally do better work. If the conversation feels like you’re pulling teeth, let the person know how much you appreciated their time, but that you have to cut it short to head to whatever your next appointment might be. Thankfully, with conferences, there is so much going on that cutting loose isn’t awkward for either party.
5. Keep your business card in your pocket
Not visible in your hand. I’ve seen this happen time and time again, especially at seminars where people rush the stage to speak with a panelist. Instead, refer to step 2: Be unforgettable. You have a better chance at them offering you their business card — which is the ultimate slam dunk.
6. The bar is your friend
And so is self-control. There is a reason that people gravitate here — they want to take the edge off. But instead of seeing this as a place to drink your fears away, channel that energy, and see this opportunity as a way to help someone feel at ease.
Sure, in this situation you’re not equipped with research, but it’s a greater opportunity to start a conversation about something outside of work. Maybe you both ordered the same drink, or maybe you like their shoes. Simple things can be the catalyst to an awesome conversation. At the Promax Christmas event last year, I ended up having an hour-long conversation with someone after discovering we’re both Croatian and loved cabbage dishes. Neither of us even knew where the other person worked until the end of the conversation! Sounds silly, but it was memorable, and we’re still in touch to this day.
7. Use your manners
Growing up, there wasn’t a day that I brought a friend over and my mom didn’t offer to make us lemonade or coffee (when we were older), or whip us up a quick snack. That hospitality always made an impression. I attribute that hospitality to my strong Croatian roots, and utilizing that hospitality in my interactions is ones of the best life-lessons I’ve learned. People love hospitality, even when it’s not in the confines of your own home. Offer to grab someone a coffee or a water. A little gesture like this goes a long way.
8. Thank you’s (and thank you cards) are very much still a thing
I have a rule to always send an email “thank you” within a five hours of meeting someone. That may sound a little obsessive, but it’s my way of ensuring the person that our conversation was meaningful.
But if you want to go one step further, consider this: In a digital world, it’s such a treat to receive a handwritten note. Many times, the other person will be so impressed by the gesture that they’ll keep it on their desk. And this, my friends, keeps you top of mind!
I’d love to hear some of your best networking tips! Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Promax!