Meeting new people can be very stressful. The hands get cold with sweaty palms, the mind goes blank for topics of conversation and you may be tempted to remain beside the bar keeping the bartender company. This is not recommended, of course. The art of small talk is just that…an art. And like anything else, the skills to do this well can be learned. Not all of us are born with the aptitude to work a room with ease but the more we put ourselves in those situations, the better we become at feeling confident about our abilities to impress.
Remember why you are networking in the first place. The actual term networking is defined as “a planned process for creating mutually beneficial relationships in order to exchange information, support and resources and have access to situations and people who can be of assistance professionally”. ~Brenda Moore-Frazier, MS
How do we do this? Excellent preparation and planning will make your networking event a success.
Before you arrive:
• Set a goal to introduce yourself to 10 new people, for example.
• Consider wearing a signature piece like a brooch that generates some conversation with people.
• Rehearse and re-rehearse your elevator speech. Make it interesting and catchy. Don’t just say what you do…consider how and what are the benefits of what you do for clients/customers.
• Bring enough business cards with current information in an attractive case. And don’t forget to have on hand a couple of stylish pens that work, of course.
• Try to know a little about the industry that many of the other invitees may be involved in especially if it’s different from your own. Have some topics in mind that would be appropriate.
• Know the dress code of the event. If unsure, ask the host. This is a must…to be properly dressed. Your attire is part of that important 7-10 seconds of a First Impression.
Working the crowd:
• You nametag goes on the right side of the jacket or blouse…drink in the left hand. Even if finger food is served, eat something before you arrive in order to keep your right hand free for shaking hands rather than holding plates of food.
• Be willing to meet new people, introduce yourself to those standing alone…be positive, authentic, genuinely interested in others. Eye contact and not looking over the person’s shoulder is important. Watch that your body language isn’t repelling people.
• Leave people with a very good impression of you by not using slang, swear words, telling jokes in poor taste or complaining about others.
Business card etiquette:
• Don’t give out your business card indiscriminately. When you have made a contact with someone, exchange cards. After the conversation, write something on the back to jog your memory about the person or your conversation together.
End conversations politely:
• Conversations at these events should not be longer than 5 minutes. Do not monopolize anyone’s time. End the conversation politely. You could mention that you were hoping to chat with _________ before you leave. Or you could make reference to the next step. “I’ll call you tomorrow about a lunch date to chat further”.
• Tell the person how much you enjoyed meeting and chatting with him/her.
When you get home:
• Follow-up with a handwritten note of thanks to the new contacts that you have made.
• Be quick to follow through with any promises that you have made to any contacts. The real networking begins after the event.
Remember, the more you put yourself out there, the more confident you will become with networking and able to work a room with ease!