Does the thought of a networking event freak you out? Do you get nervous thinking about what you’re going to say or if anyone will want to talk to you?
Networking events can be scary at times, especially if it’s in a setting where there is a clear division of “vendors” and “clients,” usually “clients” will run the other direction at the sight of “vendors” name tags.
However, it doesn’t have to be as terrifying as you think!
Some of Clarity’s finest recently attended an exciting and cause worthy event called Stepping Up in the city, hosted by an incredible non-profit organization called Step Up Women’s Network, on a mission to “ignite women and girls to their full potential.”
This was a perfect opportunity for us to meet like-minded women celebrating a cause that is near and dear to us all – right off the bat we all have something in common and something to talk about. Not to mention the incredible food stations they had: the room was overflowing with Godiva white chocolate covered strawberries and truffles, Sprinkles cupcakes, bottled cocktail options at the bar and more. This gave us plenty of opportunity to work the room and start a conversation.
There was great music and inspiring speeches made throughout the night from some of the girls and women that SUWN has helped along the way; reminding us why we were there that night and what an impact SUWN has on its community. This set up a perfect platform for us to interact with the other amazing people in the room and introduce ourselves not as someone trying to sell a service, but as a fellow member of an organization that we all truly believed in. It made it easy to connect on a more personal level which is crucial when trying to build professional relationships.
Here are some of our tips and tricks to effectively network at events to walk away with new personal and professional connections that could lead to future friendships or business partnerships:
1. Always have business cards – this may seem like a no brainer, you need to have these on hand – this will enable a follow up conversation. Also, feel out the appropriate time to hand out your card, if you feel that you have a mutual connection with someone, as you close out the conversation mention something like “It would be great to keep in touch, here’s my card…” DON’T stand around handing out business cards – that’s an obvious sales play.
2. Use the bar and food stations to your advantage – at most networking events there will be areas where you can grab a drink or food and also sometimes tables to eat. Use these areas to your advantage; they are natural means of conversation. If there is a line for food and drink, even better –it’s super easy to start talking to the person in line near you about the food or drinks being served – it’s a way to get to know someone. Think about it, instead of just asking what someone does, you could say something like “This food looks good, I think I’m going for the sliders, what are you thinking?” Everyone loves to talk about food – it’s a great non-aggressive way to start to get to know someone. As conversation continues, you can then start to work in who you are and what you do.
3. Know when to exit a conversation – this is really important for you to make the most of your time at these types of events and to also maintain a good image. Sometimes you find yourself talking to someone who is either tough to talk to (like pulling teeth) or you can’t imagine keeping in touch with. Sometimes you may be the one people are trying to move on from – in this case read body language and be in touch with nonverbal cues. However, if you are the one trying to leave the conversation – you can always say “It was so great talking to you, I’m going to grab a drink at the bar (or food).”
4. Maintain proper and professional etiquette – You may be excited by all the free booze and treats, but in order to maintain your personal brand be sure to keep the drinking to a minimum and display proper etiquette when eating. Sometimes this can be tough to balance, a drink in one hand, a plate of food in the other, and somehow you’re supposed to be able to shake hands – that’s certainly tough with only two hands. Here’s a tip – fill up half of your food plate and leave room to hold the plate with your drink on it (if possible). Something else you should keep in mind is the many germs you can pick up by shaking people’s hands and eating at the same time. To avoid getting sick – eat with your left and shake with your right, that way you can keep your germ intake to a minimum.
5. Follow up with an impactful note – Following up with the contacts you made at the event is just as important if not more important than your initial meeting. Send a follow up email the next day – I recommend mentioning a memorable part of your conversation and if appropriate see if there is an opportunity to meet again soon, otherwise it’s perfectly ok to leave it on a keep in touch basis.
Networking events can be intimidating the first few times you do it, but if you keep the above tips in mind you will be a pro in no time. It just takes practice, no fear, and the confidence that you have a lot to offer others, which you do! So get out there and see how a simple conversation that started by talking about your favorite Sprinkles cupcake flavor can turn into a new customer for your firm.