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 of drinks, make conversation, and BOOM!—a great relationship is born. Wouldn't it be great if it were 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, et cetera.
1. Get a clue (or at least a business card).
Ask yourself this: What is the point of this event? 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 hole up in 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, my 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 Orange is the New Black? 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:
- If alcohol is available, get a drink. Then buy the person next to you a drink ... Boom, you just started a convo.
- Bring a friend, approach groups together and introduce yourself and your "colleague."
- 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."
OK, 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 there is an open bar at networking events (the evening ones, that is ... although who wouldn't want a screwdriver or mimosa at 7 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 overdo 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 and 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 overthink it.
I know we provided you with multiple tips to consider before going to a networking event, but our best advice is to not overthink it. Know where you are going (kind of key) and the 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.
Written by Kim Bode, Principal of 834 Design, an award-winning Communication Strategy, Event Planning, Social Media, Media Relations and Design firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was born from Kim's passion for communications and over a decade of experience in strategic planning, marketing communications, public relations, event planning, and community outreach. A graduate of Grand Valley State University, she received her degree in communications. Kim currently resides in the Grand Rapids community with her husband, Josh, and her four rescue dogs, Bentley, Murphy, Apollo and Jimmy.