Networking at events – 10 tips on how to overcome the awkwardness
Networking events can be a great way to meet new, like-minded individuals and exchange info on what you’re working on, as well as gaining details for potential future clients.
However, for some less practised attendees, these events can be a denizen of awkwardness and result in nothing more than a wasted evening. Don’t let this be you! Here are some of our best tips from those who have been to more events, speaker series and conferences than you can shake a stick at.
1. Research the speakers
This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people would turn up at an event without knowing who is speaking or who has organised the event. Networking events can be fun, but they shouldn’t be solely an excuse to duck out of the office early. If you’re taking time out of your busy work day to attend an event, you might as well make it worth your while and gain something from the experience. Look at who is speaking, who is organising the event and if possible, who else is invited. This way you’ll also have some go-to conversation starters when you want to get chatting to others.
2. Dress to impress
Confidence is key at any event, so make sure you’re wearing something you feel good in – your favourite dress, a freshly ironed shirt or even slacks and cons if the event is super casual. Whatever it is, make sure you’re comfortable. If you know the likelihood of you standing all evening is high, try to avoid mega-high heels or bulky backpacks. The last thing you want is to be more focused on your sore feet than on the person you’re speaking to.
3. Bring a buddy
Okay, so this might seem more like a bit of a cheat than a tip, but nevertheless it works! Bringing a like-minded friend with you to an event can be brilliant; you can touch base with them in between mingling, compare notes on the different speakers and help each other out by making thoughtful introductions to other guests. Just make sure you’re bringing someone who won’t be put off if they are left to their own devices for a little bit when you’re engaged in another conversation.
4. Put down the wine
Ahh, refreshments. Key to any good event and in some cases (where you’ve had a stressful day and run straight from the office) can be the highlight of the evening. That being said, you do not want to be the person holding up the bar at a work event. Absolutely have a glass of something and enjoy yourself, but do not let this be your social crutch under any circumstances. Feeling anxious and need something to do with your hands, something to sip on? Well there’s this great new invention called water…
5. Keep your phone usage to a minimum where possible
This is a controversial one, but bear with us on this. Phones are brilliant at events for live-tweeting, taking photos, exchanging information and finding other companies social media and online presence. However, you can miss a lot of face to face interaction if your nose is buried in it the whole time. Don’t keep it in your hand or on the table in front of you, as then you’ll be reluctant to put it away. Keep it on silent in your pocket to begin with, and only take it out when good opportunities (ie. exchange info, put up a good Tweet or follow a company online) is directly presented to you.
6. Business cards
An oldie but a goodie – printed media! We’re not suggesting you walk up to someone with a cheesy “Here’s my card” line or anything, but in a society, that is now dominated by technology and online engagement, sometimes it’s nice to go back to basics and engage with people directly.
7. Be a good listener
The great thing about any networking event is that you have the opportunity to speak with people who are interested in telling you about their business and the work they do. The slight snag in some of these cases, is that you may never get a word in edgeways. Try to remember that they may have been waiting to get to talk about this with a new face for ages, so they’ll really appreciate the time you’ve taken to listen. If you get to a point where you feel you have dedicated a lot of time to just one person, try to bring someone else into the conversation and do introductions, then you’ll be able to politely excuse yourself and make your way around the room.
8. Smile – who knows, someone may even smile back
Don’t for a second think that you’re the only person there who might be feeling a little bit nervous about networking or approaching people they don’t know. See someone standing on their own? Approach them with a smile and ask them what they think about the event. Every skill you utilise gets better with practise, so the more you introduce yourself to new people at events, the better you will get at it (but if you’re really struggling, please refer back to tip 4!).
9. Thank the team
Behind the scenes of any good event is an excellent team, so if you take the time to thank the speakers for their time do make sure to thank the staff at the event. They are bound to appreciate any feedback you have, and it also gives you a familiar face to touch base with if you’re attending another event organised by them in the future. This isn’t about having someone to hang out of at their next event, but someone who can point you in the right direction of an upcoming speaker or a like-minded attendee.
10. Follow up
Be sure to share the experience online and make some connections on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram with some of the interesting people you met. Having made these connections face to face and online, don’t just sit there – engage. The point of attending the event in the first place is to network in order to make some connections. So, use these connections to better your own knowledge and maybe even your business. A retweet and some clever hashtags are always appreciated, but don’t be afraid to go a step further and invite some new connections to some events of your own. Who knows where it could take you!