‘Tis the season for networking events, and as the holidays approach, this time of year is filled with these parties. As an expert networker, or, at least a guy who goes to a lot of these things, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks from navigating the sometimes choppy sea that is a networking event and making genuine, authentic connections along the way. Below are my seven tips for not only surviving one of these shindigs, but making the absolute most out of them.
1. Plan out how you will be arriving to the event.
A lot of venues, especially in the city, don’t come equipped with an easy parking situation, and trust me, you want to arrive to your event with as little stress on your mind as possible. The last thing you want is to be at the party and in a foul mood because you got in a fight with the valet or you drove around for 45 minutes looking for the perfect spot. You won’t have any fun and more than likely, your bad mood will show. Thinking you’ll want to skip the headache of parking? Take an Uber! However, definitely consider the car you’re in. If you’re rolling up to a party at a more formal venue, like an opera house or a nice museum, in a dodgy 1994 Toyota Corolla with three missing hubcaps, consider being dropped off a block or two away and walking. Feeling fancy? Take an Uber Black.
1a. To that note, arrive fashionably late.
Does your party begin at 5? Arrive at 5:15-5:30. You definitely don’t want to be that guy who shows up early and stands around awkwardly checking their watch, waiting desperately for someone to come and talk to you. Time things out so that you arrive after a bit of a crowd has already gathered.
2. Have a designated pocket for every type of business card.
Okay, I know this one sounds a little wonky, but hear me out. Avoid any potential awkward card giving and receiving with this super handy and organized trick. Grab a stack of your business cards, about as many as you anticipate on giving out, and keep that stack in your right pocket. Any cards you receive, stick them in your left pocket. Now, if you get a card that you really don’t see as necessary or valuable to you and your business, go ahead and stash those in the back pocket. Obviously, throwing them away at the event would be rude and tactless. Keeping these cards separated will prevent any sort of mix ups, and honestly, it’s just an easy way to keep track. Win win!
During the Party
3. If you see people you know, say hi, but don’t cling to them.
The quickest way to sabotage your networking efforts is to tether yourself to only people you know. I totally get that these events can be overwhelming and it’s comforting to hang out with friends, but that’s not how you get to meet new people. If you see someone say hi, talk for a minute or two, wish them well, then move on. Remember, you’re not there to hang out with pals, you’re there to make new, beneficial connections.
4. It’s okay to be in the periphery.
The key to this rule is to understand that people at these events are here to network, but it’s also a time to relax, and have a good time. If you make yourself the center of attention or hang out in large crowds, you’ll come off as unapproachable. You want people to approach you. So, in essence, don’t go out of your way or draw attention to yourself. Hang back and let them come to you. Remember, people gravitate to those who are alone, as you come off as more approachable.
4a. However, don’t be a wallflower, either.
If people aren’t coming to you, don’t sit idly by, make something happen. If you find yourself in the situation that you’ve been standing around, by yourself, for too long, head to the bar or a food station. Those are typically areas in which people congregate. Once you find an open area at the bar or table, people will run into you as they get food and drink and strike up a conversation naturally.
5. The one hand rule.
If you’re walking around, or standing still, always keep one hand free for shaking or grabbing a business card. Keeping this in mind, you’ll want your other hand busy. Occupy your hand with food or a drink. Why? Because if you have two free hands, you’ll:
- Look like you have nothing to do. Everyone else is eating and drinking; why aren’t you?
- Gesture a lot. Trust me, it sounds harmless, but it looks weird.
Put people at ease, make it appear that you’re there to enjoy your food and drink, not to get something out of somebody. It’s much more casual this way. As a good rule of thumb, it’s best to keep your right hand free, as this is the one you’ll be shaking with (and the pocket you’re grabbing your cards from, right? Right!)
5a. The one addendum to this rule: If you’re sitting at a table.
When sitting at a table, it’s perfectly okay to have your hands free. This rule really only applies to when you’re standing and walking around. Most of the time you grabbed a table because it was close and it probably doesn’t have many people you know, this is an easier environment to start a conversation of value at.
6. Don’t handshake with a business card in it.
I mean this metaphorically speaking. (I do hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t actually shake someone’s hand with a business card literally in your hand.) You want to make a real connection, not just a business one. Have a genuine conversation with those with whom you’re engaging. This will create a sense of genuine human interaction. Sure, ask questions about their business and their role, but feel free to sprinkle in a few personal (not too personal) questions. Find out more about them, not just what they do. This will foster a sense of friendship and believe me, that’s far more valuable, and important, than milking someone for information for ten minutes, handing out a business card, and leaving. People see through fake acts pretty instantaneously. You don’t want to be caught up in that.
7. After the event, follow-up!
Throughout conversations, you should be making plans to follow-up (I’ll connect you with X, I’ll send you that link to Y, I’ll schedule a meeting for Z). It’s going to make you look good, excited, and proactive. After you’ve done that, you know… actually follow-up. Then, once you follow through, you’ll come of as someone who keeps their word. My suggestion is to follow-up within 48 hours, unless agreed upon to do so earlier.
And there you have it, folks - my seven tips for networking events and parties. Do you have any tips or tricks that you have found to be effective at networking events? Tell us in the comments!