There is one sentiment that seems to be shared among the majority of people attending networking events and conferences: “I hate these things.”
I hear it from others often and I would be lying if I told you those words didn’t slip out of my mouth from time-to-time. The interesting thing about the sentiment is inclusion of it. It doesn’t matter if you identify as an extravert or an introvert, everyone can run into that feeling of “hating these things.”
So, what do we really mean by “I hate these things”? The themes usually fall along the lines of NOT KNOWING and ASSUMING.
Not knowing anyone.
Not knowing what to say to someone to start (or continue) (or stop) a conversation.
Not knowing how to introduce yourself.
Assuming everyone knows everyone else there.
Assuming other people have this secret networking skill.
Assuming everyone else is super comfortable.
Most of us don’t like feeling incompetent at anything, and being vulnerable in front of a group of strangers you potentially want to impress is not at the top of anyone’s fun list. So let’s get proactive and intentional about the things we do have control over (and then I will share a not-so-secret secret at the end):
Identify your Intention
Why did you choose to go to this event? What do you want to get out of it?
For example, “I want to connect with two potential clients.” Just like the Cheshire cat says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
Without a goal or intention for the experience, how do you know if it was worth your time?
Formalize Your First Sentence
Sharing just your name or job title (or major) closes a conversation. You want to open the door to a discussion. Check out “How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes” for creative introduction option.
If the conversation isn’t moving, ask them questions about their work
- “How did you get into that field?”
- “How did you figure out that is what you wanted to do?”
- “I don’t have much exposure to ____, what does a typical day look like for you?
People love to share their stories.
Print Business or Networking Cards
Having a card to hand to people opens the door to keep the conversation going! Prior to having a job that gave me business cards, I ordered “networking” cards from VistaPrint. I put my name, email, phone number, and my (at the time) dream job title, “Leadership Development Specialist.” I was able to feel more professional and build my network. Make sure you choose a title or phrase to explain the work you want people to associate you with.
Put an OOO Up
Put an Out of Office message up so you can focus on networking without guilt. This simple task proactively allows you to ignore your email. I even keep a few in my email draft folder so they are easy to load.
If you have taken Insights Discovery, here are some Out of Office Messages based on Color Preferences:
(If you haven’t done Insights and would like to, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Put Your Phone Down
Our phones give us an immediate escape from the uncomfortableness of networking. We can scroll through Instagram or reply to emails. It often makes us feel important and “busy,” but if your true intent is to network and build relationships, put your phone down and keep it on DND.
Sit next to a stranger at every meal. Ask the speaker a question. Share your new elevator speech. Invite someone to coffee next week. Introduce two people you know. You are at the event to grow, and you are the one who has control what that growth looks like.
Write on Business Cards
When someone hands me a business card, I always write 1) The event where I met them, 2) the date (month/year), and 3) something we spoke about. If I said I will follow up with them, I add a check box and write “connect” next to it. There have been times when I look at a card the next day and need a reminder… let alone 4 years after an event when you are looking for an IT Headhunter and know you met one at one point (true story – my business card notes saved me!). Even Michael Scott, of The Office, does it!
Now for the not-so-secret secret. Almost everyone is uncomfortable at networking events. People have commented on how easily I introduce myself to random people at these events. Truth is – I don’t always feel comfortable. But the other truth is, the other people are uncomfortable too. And both of us awkwardly trying to stand in a corner and stare at our phones isn’t going to add any value.
You get to make the call – if you are investing your time into attending a networking event or conference, how are you setting yourself up for success?