Have you ever been stressed out before a professional networking event or get nauseous simply at the thought of one? Do you panic because you may not know anyone at the event and wonder how you’ll ever feel comfortable walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself?
Then this blog post is for you!
The more that you can set yourself up for success, the less like “work” it will feel. This blog post sets you up for success by helping you understand what to do prior to the event, during the event and after the event.
Let’s get started …
Prior to the professional networking event:
1. Goal Setting
Understand what you want to accomplish and set a personal goal for the event. Having a goal can make you more focused on what you want to accomplish versus focusing on your nervousness. Example: I will initiate meaningful conversation with 3 people that I have never met before.
2. Elevator Speech
Be prepared to introduce yourself and help someone understand who you are in 2-3 sentences (otherwise known as your personal brand or elevator speech).
3. Ice Breakers and Conversation Topics
Identify a few of these that you’d like to use, get comfortable with them (practice using them in your workplace when meeting new people, with friends and family or even at volunteer or social events!) and use them at the event. Whenever possible, avoid asking questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Below are some suggestions:
– Hi, I don’t know anyone here, so I wanted to introduce myself (use modified version of your elevator speech).
– I feel like I’m the new kid on the first day of school and don’t know anyone here, mind if I sit with you?
– This is my first time attending this event, have you been to this before?
– What is your primary role in your company?
– What project(s) are you working on now?
– Who is your ideal client/customer?
– How long have you been attending this conference? What has changed over the years?
– Tell me about your company
– What did you think of X speaker today?
– What has been your favorite session?
– What are you passionate about?
– What is the biggest challenge that you’re currently facing in your role?
– What is the biggest opportunity …?
– What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
– What motivated you to come to this event?
Pro tips for making a professional networking event feel like less work
Pro Tip #1:
If your industry utilizes LinkedIn (or other platforms), connect with speakers and/or other attendees prior to the professional networking event. When sending a connection request via LinkedIn, make sure to “add a note” so that you can explain why you are asking to connect with that person.
Sample wording for connecting on LinkedIn:
In reviewing the agenda for the June 8th Leadership Summit, I noticed that you will be an executive coach for the coaching sessions, as will I! I wanted to connect prior to the event on here and look forward to meeting you.
I will be attending the Leadership Summit on June 8th at St. Catherine’s University and wanted to introduce myself to you prior to the event. I truly enjoyed reading about you on the website and look forward to learning more from you.
Pro Tip #2:
Ask a friend or colleague to attend the event with you. Just make sure that you both circulate and meet new people!
Pro Tip #3:
If the event is part of a conference, the attendee list is often provided in advance. Review this and identify any people you’d like to talk with individually. Be able to articulate why you want to speak with them, seek them out and strike up a conversation (For example, at a recent conference I reviewed the attendee list and noticed that a peer company had 3 people attending and I’d recently read about a hiring program they are piloting and wanted to learn more. I introduced myself to the first person I saw from that company and used my elevator speech to explain who I was, my job and why I wanted to learn more about what they do).
Day before the event (or sooner!)
- Select an appropriate outfit for the event. Wear something that you are comfortable in, including your shoes!
- Make sure that you have your business cards. You would rather have too many, than not enough (and I cannot tell you how many times people forget to bring them!)
- Review the agenda to make sure that you know where you’re going and that you’ve allotted enough time to get there
- Pack everything you need the night before so that you are prepared if things don’t go according to plan the next day. It’s always better to be over prepared!
During the Event
- Remember that you may be making an impression on others before you even walk into the event. For example, if you are driving to an event, there will most likely be others doing the same and interactions may start as early as in the parking lot.
Quick Story – I was at an event recently and there was a long line to pay the parking lot machine because the woman at the front was struggling with using her credit card. I could see that she had the card backwards (strip on the wrong side) and went up and, discreetly, showed her how to use her card. She found me later in the day and introduced me to her colleagues, using that story as a funny introduction.
- If you need to hand write your name tag, make sure that you include your first and last name and that is easy to read (large) and legible
- Place your name tag near your right shoulder, this makes it easy for people to see it when you shake their hand
- Be approachable, make eye contact and smile
- Be aware of body language and be open so that people feel comfortable approaching you and/or the group that you’re in. If you’re in a group and someone new approaches, make sure to open the circle (step back, shift your shoulders to be open to them) so that they can join you
- Do not use company specific acronyms/jargon
- Slow down your speech, we tend to talk faster when we are nervous
- Look for another person who seems to “need a friend” as well. Not only are you meeting someone new, you’re going to help them feel more comfortable as well
- Stay hydrated. You will be talking a lot and water will help you keep your voice and keep you energized
- Know your alcohol limit. Mine happens to be 0 in this setting, so I drink water or seltzer water with a lemon or lime
- When someone is introduced to you, repeat their name during your conversation together, this not only demonstrates that you are paying attention, it also helps you remember their name
- Take one or two breaks during the event to write notes on business cards or do so right after the event concludes. Make sure to include key words on things that you will remember such as; working on project x, passionate about x, needs help with x, connect her with x
- If you need to take a breather to recharge, regroup and reenergize, do it – do what it takes to set yourself up to succeed!
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Pro Tip #4:
Introduce yourself to the event organizer(s) and learn more about the professional networking event and attendees from them. If you’re comfortable doing so, ask them to introduce you to others.
Pro Tip #5:
Focus on being interested vs. being interesting by ASKING QUESTIONS. Most people love to share things about themselves and find it easier to answer questions vs. ask them. Just keep asking questions if you’re feeling uncomfortable or nervous. If you don’t remember your “go to” questions, try to ask things like “Tell me about …” or “Why do you think that is?” or “what did you …”?
For example, if I were to ask someone “did you enjoy the conference today?” they may just answer “yes” or “no”. But if I were to ask them “what was your favorite session today?” and then follow up on their answer with “tell me more about why that is…” or any other similar questions, it will create a conversation and you will learn more about what is important to them.
Pro Tip #6:
Do not automatically give out your business card to anyone/everyone that you talk to (or ask for one from them) as part of going through the motions. It’s not about how many you can collect (or give out), it’s about capturing those that you want to keep in contact with later and knowing that you will follow up with them.
After the event
- Follow up with the people that you’d like to continue to network with moving forward within the next work week (in whatever form is most acceptable in your industry; social media, email, phone)
- If appropriate in your industry, connect via LinkedIn. Make sure to personalize your message by referencing where you met and include any additional details such as why you’d like to stay connected, see example verbiage below.
- Add your new contacts to your master tracker. If you do not have one, see this networking guide with an example of a very basic tracker
Sample LinkedIn wording:
It was great to meet you at the Leadership Imperative yesterday and I really enjoyed your breakout session. I’d love to stay connected with you to learn more about X and gain more insight about Y from you.
With this information, you should feel better equipped to handle any professional networking event!