At some point, we’ve all felt awkward at a professional development where we didn’t know anyone. Each event is the same: you arrive in your business casual attire to network, grab a drink, avoid the center of the room, then grab a free appetizer and run.
Most networking events are approached with apprehension, but it’s time to skip the elevator pitch, embrace the awkward, and attend with a mindset that leaves us with valuable connections and contacts for personal and professional growth.
It isn’t all about you
Nine times out of ten, most people at networking events aren’t there to learn about you. They have their own agenda; use that to your advantage, and be proactive to listen to everyone you meet. The sales funnel is a process, and you’re likely not going to make a sale or generate a lead the first time you meet someone. So build your contact list, and focus on creating a relationship, instead of nailing your next elevator pitch. (Because no one really wants to hear another pitch anyway.)
Change your attitude
Your attitude is everything, so change your perspective on networking. Instead of going to self promote, focus on developing your relationships. Think of networking as an opportunity to speed date for your new group of colleagues. Focus more on building trust, and when the time is right, the sales or referrals will come. After all, we’re more inclined to purchase from people we trust, right? Be the person who’s focused on everyone else in the room, not how uncomfortable you may feel.
Don’t just head straight to the back of the room: take initiative, and make your time matter. Be bold. Put on your extravert hat, and start initiating conversations. Everyone’s anxious to break the ice, so take charge, mentally prepare, and seek out conversations. Scan the room, place your feelings aside, and pinpoint the people you know you need to talk to. Have topics or potential questions in mind, target your next prospect, and start up a conversation.
(Pro-tip: Ask people if they have pets or if they’ve gone anywhere exciting on vacation recently. You’re more quickly to bond with someone over a shared interest/experience than asking the dry, “So what do you do?”)
You can bring value to the contacts you encounter by making an effort to bridge the gap between groups, and connect others. See someone familiar?
Introduce them in your conversation. Talking to someone who has a marketing need that you can’t accommodate? Refer them to someone you know and trust. When you focus on sharing your connections, you benefit from bringing someone business, and more often than not, they’ll be grateful and will return the favor.
Do your homework
Most networking events still require an RSVP, so figure out who’s going to be there ahead of time. Go through the guest list. Look at names you may recognize, industries you want to learn more about, or people you would like to connect with.
Do some research on topics that may bridge the gap or give you opportunities to connect with the people you want to. Create different talking points or make a note in your phone about the conversations you could have. Scan for potential leads you’d like to continue conversing with, or other connections you’d like to do business or refer to. Don’t leave without connecting with these people.
Make your last impression as great as your first
Most people talk about a great first impression, but your last impression matters as well. End your conversation on a high note, and try to remember specific things you learned about each person you converse with. Don’t just skip to the next person or head to the door without thanking them for the conversation, giving them your business card, and initiating some sort of follow up.
The next day, be sure to send a thank you email and appreciation for your conversation. Consider expanding your LinkedIn network and staying in touch with your new found connections. When appropriate, schedule a second meeting or phone follow up if it is mutually beneficial. Don’t go soliciting everyone you meet, but do occasionally check in and keep in touch. You never know when you may need the contact you just made.