Whether you’re a job seeker, business professional, or simply open to something new, this is a three-part series that provides best practices for beginners learning how to navigate networking events.
If you’re new to networking, the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and starting conversations with people you do not know can be overwhelming. Networking, however, does not have to be a chore. If you go in with an open mind, it can lead to meeting new friends, learning about new industries or ideas, and even finding new business or career opportunities. While networking is a cornerstone for sales and building business, networking for job seekers is equally critical.
In our last conversation, we discussed optimal ways to prepare to attend a networking event. Feeling confident and prepared is half the battle, but what do you do when you arrive at the event? Here are some recommendations:
1. Arrive Early
When you walk into the event after it has started, it can feel incredibly overwhelming. Depending on the size of the event, it can feel crowded, claustrophobic, and alienating. To prevent feeling burned out before you even begin, warm up your conversational skills by arriving at the start of the event and speaking to the individuals managing their company’s sponsorship tables. If this is a smaller event without sponsors, speak with the individuals who are part of the hosting organization.
Sponsors and hosts are vested in ensuring the event goes well and attendees feel welcome. Arriving at the start of the networking time also creates a less intimidating atmosphere with a smaller crowd size. There is also time to look over the attendee name badges and make a mental list of individuals with whom you want to engage. All of this can help reduce anxiety and help you feel more comfortable at the event.
2. The Importance of Body Language
As the event continues, you will notice certain groups of people forming as conversations progress. Read other people’s body language to determine when to insert yourself into a conversation. With any large group of people, different cliques are going to emerge. This does not mean that a certain group is uninterested in speaking with you; it may mean they all work together, are already acquainted, or had a specific topic to discuss.
If you notice that a group of people are in a “V” formation, they have subconsciously provided an open spot in their group for someone else to join their conversation. Similarly, if three or more people are in an open circle, that is often an invitation to join the group.
While in conversation, ensure your own body language is open as well – do not cross your arms or keep your hands in your pockets. Engage the person in conversation, but remain open to adding others, introducing them to your new acquaintance.
3. Overcome the Feeling of Being Ignored
One pitfall of which to be aware is getting ignored while trying to join a conversation. The best way to avoid this is to monitor body language as described previously. In addition, avoid situations in which two people are already engaged in a discussion and coming across as if they are not open to others joining. You can always come back around after the conversation has ended. If you do approach a person or group and are ignored, do not let this affect the rest of your night. Find another group more welcoming, or someone you already know, and engage in a conversation.
4. Avoid Conversational Quicksand
Try not to spend the entire evening talking to the same person. Sometimes, however, you may feel trapped in a conversation. To make a smooth exit without offending the other person, there are a few different strategies you could use. You can make an excuse (“I need to use the restroom/grab some food/chat with a colleague quickly/make sure I meet so-and-so”) or bring someone else into the conversation. As you exit the conversation, mention something you discussed that meant something to you. This demonstrates that you aren’t running off because you are bored or uninterested. Close the conversation with, “I’ve enjoyed talking to you about your [interests, work experience, neighborhood]. I hope to see you at another event!”
Another trap that is easy to fall into is only talking to people you know. Try setting a goal of meeting three new people, and avoiding long conversations with friends until you have met your goal.
5. Facilitate Conversation: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How?
Even the most skilled conversationalists will have occasional moments of awkward silence in conversation. To keep the conversation flowing, try to learn as much as you can about those with whom you are speaking. Focus on getting to know the other person more than getting known. People love to talk about themselves, so be a great listener. Keep the focus on the other person with open-ended questions and do not interrupt when they are responding.
When it comes to questions, you can practice “the 5 W’s and How.” For example, “With whom do you work? What type of work do you do there? Where is your office located? When did you start working there? Why did you choose that career/industry? How did you hear about this event?”
As you’re listening, be sure to find common ground in what they’re saying and bring these points up. People like doing business with other people who have similar interests or passions.
By being on time, paying attention to body language, focusing more on the other person, and feeling confident, engaged and motivated, you will find success with networking. Stay tuned for our next blog that will provide even more tips to becoming a master networker.