Fireside Insights spent an evening with Network After Work, an organization with monthly recurring networking events hosted across 85 cities, promoting our website and socializing with other business owners, entrepreneurs, and career-minded professionals. Aiming to shift away from mundane networking events, the organization provides a relaxed atmosphere within which people are welcome to make meaningful connections. At Fireside Insights, we know how daunting it can be to meet and network with strangers, but equipped with a few tools, you can easily navigate through a crowd and become more proficient at networking.
Start with your elevator pitch: As with any encounter with a stranger, it’s both customary and well-mannered to introduce yourself. Providing a summary of yourself provides the other person speaking points that can advance the conversation instead of lead to awkward silences.
Write the name of your company or an interesting fact on your badge: Networking events will typically provide you a label on which you can write your name. Adding an extra detail about your employer or a personal fact can provide an icebreaker for your conversational partner. Like the elevator pitch, you are leaving conversation crumbs that the person you’re speaking with can pick up.
Dress to impress: Dress code can vary depending on the type of event, but for most networking events, you can arrive in business casual clothes. Keep in mind that these are both social and professional events, so you have more freedom to dress casually so long as it’s not too revealing. I find that the more formal I dress, the most confident I feel.
Do your homework: More intimate receptions will occasionally list the name of the event hosts and/or attendees. If you have access to a guest list, identify the most interesting people to you, research them, and prepare some talking points when you meet them.
Force the other to speak: Being in a room with strangers can be overwhelming and isolating if no one approaches you. Muster up some courage, make eye contact with someone near you, and ask them, “What brings you here tonight?” or “Tell me about yourself.” Breaking that initial barrier with an open-ended question forces the other guest to speak about themselves and to share information. Eventually, you’ll gain momentum and easily move onto other attendees.
Respectfully but boldly interrupt: When trying to slip into another conversation between two or more people, first assess whether the group is discussing something private or intimate and then confidently walk up to the group and say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but can I join your conversation?” Introduce yourself and ask what they have been discussing. It’s more awkward to linger around a group without introducing yourself, and since most conversations at networking events are casual and superficial, you likely aren’t interrupting something important.
Bring business cards: Nowadays, you can quickly print business cards at any office supply store within a few days. When you establish a meaningful connection with another attendee, offer your card in exchange for theirs and jot down a few details from your interaction. When following up via email or phone, it’s always thoughtful to mention a detail or two to show them that you were actively listening. Additionally, if you plan to connect via LinkedIn, asking for permission shows good manners and will always be answered with a “yes.” A simple “Would you mind if we connected on LinkedIn?” should suffice.
Give a firm handshake with eye contact. Don’t forget to smile.
Try these tips out at your next networking event, and let us know how effective they are! We also welcome any tips and tricks you have learned from your experiences.