Intimidating as they may be for you, networking events are venues that invent opportunities. How? By connecting you with the people who will significantly impact your professional future.
This post summarizes a more in-depth Shift article you can access here. In this short-hand version, we share what you can do before, during, and after a networking event to build confidence in your abilities and invite opportunity your way.
Before the event:
Get clean – get that haircut, shave, shower, brush your teeth, and ensure that any scents you wear (including your own body odour) are not offensive.
Find your “power suit” – wear something that helps you feel at your professional best. In other words, dress for the job you want to be hired for. The dress code is always one or two steps above what you would wear to work: “clean casual” if you work in the trades, “business professional” if you work in an office. Ask around so you can learn what will be expected.
“Begin with the end in mind” – what do you want to get out of this event? Set some specific and manageable goals to help you leave feeling successful. Consider the following as starting points:
- Feeling shy? Try initiating a conversation with one individual and two small groups
- A bit more confidence? Try making two good connections to follow up on later
- Ready to dive in? Go meet the keynote speaker, or a favorite presenter, and get him/her to introduce you to someone else
Prepare a few “small talk” comments or questions you can use to start a conversation and write them down. Here are a few examples:
- “I’m so glad that they always have a fruit plate at these things. Crazy as it sounds, pineapple is my go-to comfort food. What’s yours?”
- “How are you enjoying the event so far?”
- “Were you at the keynote address today? Anything stand out to you from that presentation?”
Write down some graceful ways to exit a conversation. Some ideas are below:
- “Could I introduce you to __________? I think the two of you will have a lot in common.”
- “Could you give me your email? I have a great article to send you about the topic we were just discussing. Would you find that helpful? If so, maybe we could meet for coffee at a later date.”
Learn from “expert” networkers – next time you are in a social setting, discreetly watch the people who are able to “work the room.” Ask yourself:
- What group formations do they make themselves a part of? Which do they avoid?
- How do they join a conversation or get one started themselves?
- What body language do they use? How do they stand, sit, lean, or reposition themselves to engage those around them?
- What do they do or say when others disengage from them?
During the event: Dos and Don’ts
DO observe people – Be curious, not judgmental, and watch for:
– Social formations – Start or join a conversation if people are:
- Standing alone
- Talking with another person, but looking around the room
- Standing in a semi-circle or V-shape
- Standing in an open circle that has spaces in it
- If people are standing in a group looking towards a speaker, screen, or other focal point, squeeze into the group and initiate a conversation about whatever is happening – but not in a way that interrupts the attraction
– Others’ body language – If people move back when talking to you, it is possible you:
- Are standing too close
- Have bad breath
- Smell of body odour or cologne/perfume that is too strong
- Too much smiling usually means someone feels uncomfortable or embarrassed. Draw them in with some small talk
- If someone turns away while talking to you without explanation, it is rude. Consider ending the conversation gracefully. If they turn away because the conversation has been interrupted by someone else, start again simply: “You were saying…”
DO connect with people – That’s why you came, after all!
- Make eye contact, smile, and shake hands when you are meeting someone new. If you are meeting a previous acquaintance, it may be appropriate to hug
- Ask open-ended questions as much as you can. Lots of “yes” and “no” questions can feel more like an interrogation than a conversation
- Connect virtually – Ask what social media platforms your contact uses and tell them you will find them there
- Study the business cards you receive briefly and offer a comment or ask a question to show your interest. Make a note on the back of the card to help you remember the person you received it from
Remember “pull” and “push” strategies – The concept of pull and push in relationship building is Terry Bacon’s idea, not ours, and it’s brilliant.
Here’s the summary: pull strategies invite people to build a relationship with you and help you learn more about other people; push strategies show you have power and influence – that you are a valuable person to have contact with.
Here’s an example of “pull” and “push” in a conversation:
You: That is an impressive spread of food on the table. (Pull: small talk – puts people at ease and helps draw them into your conversation)
Stranger: For sure! I haven’t tasted it yet though, too busy talking to people and making connections. (Push: legitimizing by showing what an important person he is that everyone wants to talk to him)
You: Have you been to this event before? (Pull: socializing)
Stranger: No this is my first time, how about you?(Pull: socializing)
You: First time for me too. Say do you know Jamal from Power Tech over there? (Pull: building alliances)
Stranger: Oh yeah. We have been buddies for years, went to high school together. (Push: legitimizing, history)
You: Really? Where was that? (Pull: socializing)
Stranger: In Ontario – you probably don’t know the school. Where did you go to high school? (Push: stating then pull: socializing)
You: Pakistan – Lahore Grammar School; the best school in the country. Everyone who gets a good job in Pakistan goes there. (Push: role and status in the organization, history)
Stranger: Well probably that won’t help you much here. You have to know someone with a Canadian company to make progress. (Push: stating)
You: That is so true! Which is why I’m wondering if you could introduce me to Jamal at Power Tech. Since you know him so well…I would appreciate the connection since I’m just building my network in Canada. Just an introduction of course. (Pull: appeal to relationship, building alliances, showing that you appreciate his status with the person you want to get to know)
Stranger: Sure let’s do that now. Wait, I don’t know your name. Mine is Ruben. (Pull: socializing, appeal to relationship)
You: Pleased to meet you Ruben, my name is Tariq. (Pull: socializing, appeal to relationship)
In Canada, we use more pull strategies than push strategies, but it’s good to include a “push” at the end of your conversation by offering some kind of service and confirming your offer’s usefulness:
- “Could I email you a link to an article I’ve read on this very subject? Would that be helpful to you? Then perhaps we could meet up for coffee to discuss it further?”
DON’T believe there is something wrong with you if you get nervous
Remember that every personality has two parts: the stubborn, unchangeable part you are born with (your temperament) and the part that is entirely malleable because it’s environmental – the old “nature/nurture” relationship. Your nervousness comes from the fact that you are stretching a piece of your personality that would prefer to stay brittle. Growing pains are normal and they aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
INSTEAD of focusing on your nerves, take some time to regroup. Revisit your goals and the questions and conversation exits you have prepared, then TRY AGAIN
“The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time” – Thomas A. Edison
After the event:
“The fortune is in the follow-up”
Reflect on the goal you set. Did you achieve it? Did you aim too high or too low? Write down a new goal for your next networking opportunity
Follow up with the contacts you made within two weeks of the event. Phone, email, and try to connect on social media. These connections could look like:
- Phone – “It was great to meet you at the [networking event]. I enjoyed our conversation. Could we schedule a time for a coffee meeting?”
- Voicemail – “Hello [name of contact], this is [your name]. We met at [networking event] recently. I enjoyed our conversation and would like to schedule a coffee meeting. Please call me at [your phone number] so we can arrange a time. I’ll also send an email if it’s more convenient for you to reply that way.”
- Email – “Hello [name of contact]. We met recently at [networking event] and I really enjoyed talking with you [if you remember your conversation topic, insert that here]. Could we get together for coffee? This week I am swamped but next week I’m fairly open from Wednesday to Friday. Please suggest some times that might work for you. Thanks, [your name]”
- Social Media – Depending on the social media site you are using, you many need to ask their permission to connect or you may be able to add them to your network without their direct permission. Either way, send a message, something like: “It was good meeting you at [networking event]. Glad we could connect.”
If people don’t respond to your requests, send a reminder email to see if something came up or if they just forgot. More than two tries may be pestering, so leave it at that.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”
Remember, it only takes ONE good connection to significantly impact your professional future.
Do the work to find that person! You may meet them directly, or be introduced or referred to them by another contact, perhaps through a series of seemingly unrelated events. Keep imagining your ideal business contact:
- What business they would be in?
- How would your conversation go?
- What you would share with them?
- What advice or opportunity would they offer you?
- What problems could you help them solve?
Practicing these conversations in your mind will help you learn how to dialogue with many different business contacts, but more importantly they will attract the people and opportunities you have been waiting for.
Want some more tips? We’ve got a webinar that will Networking for people who are shy, socially uncomfortable or new to the country
“Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation”