A roomful of people you don’t know. The anxiety of putting your best foot forward. The limited time to make connections with people. This doesn’t sound like a relaxed situation. However, networking is something that you cannot escape in today’s times. Be it business opportunities or job options, networking can make a huge difference. We all are familiar with the drill of exchanging cards, introducing ourselves and getting to know one person at a time in the room. I have been to my fair share of networking events. And I have figured that a few things work out quite well. Some, I stumbled upon myself. Others, I learnt through observation. Here are a few quick and easy tips that can help you make the most of a networking event:
1. Keep your hands free: Think about it! You need your hands to shake hands with people, hand them your cards and get theirs. And you wont be able to do that smoothly if you are juggling with a cell phone, a hand bag and probably a goodie bag you just got at the registration desk! Find a place for your stuff so that they don’t get in the way of you meeting people with a smile on your face.
2. Toss away freebies: This is one way of keeping your hands free. You can check your goodie bag for what’s worth keeping – maybe pens and note pads to use right away. You can always find information about the speakers and their companies online instead of carrying any sponsor brochures around.
3. Sit next to strangers: Going with a friend can reduce stress in a room full of strangers. But it also makes it harder to step out of your comfort zone. How will you network if you step in with your friends, sit next to them and stick around in your own group? So even if you choose to go with friends, make sure that you sit next to people you don’t know. That way you will make meaningful conversation with at least 2 other people.
4. Look at name tags: Most networking events have a way of telling people your name. (If possible, pin the name near your collar where people can see it easily). Look at people’s name tags (try not to stare while trying to read it). Use the name of the person you are talking to at least twice during the conversation. Even if you can’t while talking, you can greet and bid good bye with their name. There, that’s twice with each person.
5. Don’t be on social media/phone: I know social media is an inseparable part of our lives and we want to live tweet and tell people about the awesome event we are a part of. But keep that to the minimal during such an event. Looking at and typing into your phone while someone is talking about their work is rude. And you know how hard it is to resist the temptation to look up notifications on the phone. So keep them away to begin with.
6. Maintain eye contact: This one is easy to miss in a room full of people moving around. Don’t scan the room for your next target or get distracted by people around. Missing the person’s name is the easiest – if there are no name tags. The idea of a networking event is to make a few meaningful connections and not talk to everyone present. So focus and listen to the person you are talking to. That way you will have relevant questions to ask and keep the conversation going.
7. Use the microphone: In a recent networking event, I asked the panel a question after their discussion, with a one line introduction. And that one liner was enough to inform the audience about what I do. I had a couple of people catch up with me later since they were interested. This technique is really great when you use it in large events. But make sure that your question makes sense and you don’t use the air time just for the sake of introducing yourself.
These easy tips can go a long way in making the most of your networking time. Do you have any favourites for better networking? Send them in your comments below and I’d love to include them in this post.