I’ve been to several networking events, mixers and conferences. They ranged from ones hosted by my alma mater NYU, to ones hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists. From affairs in conference rooms, to soirees in hotel banquet halls. But no matter who hosted them or where they were held, the thing they all had in common was they were awkward and uncomfortable.
I’m telling you this upfront because I don’t want to lie to you or sugar coat things. Networking is honestly awkward and uncomfortable. And worse, it is something you won’t become good at over night. But if you have a networking event coming up and aren’t a great networker you are actually in luck. Because, as is the case with any great skill, networking teaches networking.
Now I know you can’t just blindly go into this event and hope for the best, nor would I want you. That would be terrifying and you would waste a valuable opportunity to gain something more from the event than just a learning experience. So I will share some of my best networking tidbits with you in hopes that you walk away from this event a little more confident and with a few business cards in your pocket.
6 Tips to Help You Ace Networking Events
- Dress the part: You need to show up to this event looking like it’s your first day on the job. Unless of course it is a more formal occasion, in which case you should dress formally of course, but keep things understated i.e. girls watch your hemlines and necklines, boys don’t go full on three piece suit.
- Use the buddy system, but don’t be cliquey: If you don’t think you can handle being all on your lonesome I will allow you to bring a buddy. But only if you promise not to hang out in a corner with said friend all night. Bring a buddy who you know will push you to go talk to people and make some great contacts.
- Let them know you’re coming: Figure out who the coordinator for the networking event is and reach out to them. Let them know who you are and ask if they could possibly show you around when you arrive. They will most likely be impressed you reached out and happy to make a few quick introductions to start you off.
- Have a conversation starter locked and loaded: You need to know how to start a conversation in a professional manner. Easiest networking pick up line? “Hi, I’m __________. What brings you to this event?” And boom goes the dynamite.
- Bring both your personal and professional business cards: We’ve talked about how important business cards are before. So important I’ve suggested making your own personal ones. This is the time to have them. Right now. Bring some to the event, along with your professional ones if you are currently employed, and don’t be shy about handing them out. After wrapping up a conversation with someone ask if they wouldn’t mind if you followed up with them and if you could have their business card. Then slip them yours.
- Study other networkers and “steal” their tactics: You see that guy making business cards rain? WATCH HIM. Not, you know, in a stalker way. But see what he is doing right. You may not be able to put it in to practice right away, but if you study others who are good at networking then you will know what to do better next time.
What I hope you have gained from this is enough insight to let you walk away from a networking event with some good contacts and leads and confidence that you will do even better next time. Aw, go you!