Networking 101: "Working" a Networking Event

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • How to mingle.
  • How to learn whether another person can help you.
  • How to get their card or move on to the next one.
Networking 101: "Working" a Networking Event

Most SharpMen claim to hate "networking." They explain that it makes them feel self-conscious and exposed. When probed further, it becomes more apparent that it’s not the networking that makes SharpMen uncomfortable; it’s the awkward process of meeting and "categorizing" new people at networking events that is perceived as difficult. Check out these SharpWork tips on infiltrating a crowd, starting conversations, getting business cards and moving on:

Step One: Identify your networking goal.

Why are you going to a particular networking event? To develop business, find business partners, recruit, be recruited? When you identify specific goals, you are more likely to choose the appropriate networking venue and use your time there wisely.

Step Two: Entering a room.

If you feel uncomfortable about meeting new people in the networking environment, chances are the worst part of the experience will come when you enter a meeting or cocktail party where you know no one. Prevent this uneasy feeling by inviting a friend or colleague (who is not in direct competition with you, of course) to come along. Once you get over your fear, you’ll find that networking is more effective when you don’t share the stage — and that’s when you leave your friend at the door.

Step Three: Follow a plan.

Another great way to increase your comfort level is to have a definite plan for "tackling" a networking event. For example, "plan" to enter the room and casually walk over to the bar. Get a drink to occupy your hands while you make a lap around the room to see whether you recognize anyone at the event.

By contrast, a bad plan is to park yourself next to the crudités platter. You don’t go to these events to get a free meal (otherwise you’ll find yourself hovering around the onion dip all evening). Instead, use the food and eating as another opportunity to distract fidgety hands or an activity to join in on in order to make a potential contact more comfortable.

Step Four: Picking a person to speak to.

Is there a science to picking new people to approach? Not really. Simply approach the first person you see who looks approachable. Is there an advantage to approaching groups versus "lone wolves," under the theory that loners are less likely to be important? Nope. You never know who will be important to your purpose until you speak to them. Also, given these times of high mobility, many high-ranking individuals will be new to networking meetings and, therefore, will not yet have established a "clique" — you never know. In general, the lone wolf will be grateful for your attention. And approaching a lone wolf helps you avoid the awkward position of breaking into a group conversation.

If you recognize someone you know who is not helpful to your networking goal, be social anyway. Approach him or her, be collegial and then move on. After all, you didn’t come to the networking event to speak to people you already know can’t help you.

Step Five: Speaking to a potential contact.

When approaching someone new, do not look at his or her nametag. Why? Networking events require SharpMen to dance a weird dance. On the one hand, these events are clearly organized for the purpose of getting business people together with other people they need. On the other hand, everyone is supposed to act like they’re only there to be social and have a good time. For this reason, it is important not to seem too predatory in learning about the people you approach, and not to drop them too quickly once you realize they don’t suit your purpose. How do you do this?

Begin by introducing yourself. Give your name only. Do not mention what it is that you do. This type of introduction sounds too calculating to be social. Once you introduce yourself, by necessity, the other person will have to introduce him or herself, thereby relieving you of the awkward situation where you look down at the other person’s nametag to "see" if you should introduce yourself. This way, it just looks like you are being polite.

If the other person offers nothing more than his or her name in return, and there is nothing inherently interesting about the event itself to talk about, it’s up to you to find some other way to advance the conversational ball. Again, your goal is to do this without looking down at the nametag. Instead say, "Where are you based?" This question is vague enough to be non-threatening, while encompassing the following questions: (a) "where do you work?" and (b) "where do you live?" Because of the noninvasive nature of the question, you are likely to get a response to one or more of these questions. More often than not, this question will also engender a reciprocal question by the potential contact. After these two questions have been asked and answered, both parties will know where the other works and lives. This information should be enough to get a conversation going long enough to determine whether this person is the type of contact you came to meet.

Step Six: Getting Digits or Moving On.

Once you’ve determined whether or not a new contact is helpful to you, you must follow through or move on. If the person clearly cannot help you, you are still required to be polite in making your exit. Wait for a pause in the conversation, or a moment when someone else approaches, and excuse yourself to refresh your drink or visit the men’s room.

On the other hand, if the person you’ve been speaking to turns out to be a great contact, your next goal is to get his contact information. How do you do this? Try to establish a reason why the potential contact would like to hear from you in the future. If there isn’t anything unique about your business, steer the conversation toward a hobby or other valuable piece of information that you can provide. This will give the person a reason to give you his card. Now that you’ve established that he wants to hear from you, tell him you will contact him within a time certain and then do so.

Step Seven: Putting the networking process into perspective.

Will this person automatically become a useful business contact or customer? Nothing is guaranteed. The process of networking takes time and patience, frequently paying off after several years, not days. On the other hand, if handled properly, the person you spend time getting to know will become a new "contact." This means that another person knows your name and what you do, and if the need ever arises, he may contact you regarding an opportunity. In this way, your "network" of contacts will grow and become more helpful to you.

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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