Attending networking events can be awkward and stressful or enjoyable and fulfilling. We’ve all been in those situations of walking into a room full of strangers, feeling that scrunchie feeling in your stomach, and watching the seconds tick by as you constantly evaluate if this is a waste of your time.
We’re all people first and business people second. Networking is for creating mutually beneficial professional relationships. Remember that your odds are much higher of meeting a person who may know a great business prospect than of meeting a person who is a great business prospect. Therefore, your goal is to be an attractive and fun person that people you meet will like. Then they’re more likely to recommend you and your company to others, or to want to meet up with you in the future.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure your networking experiences are good times.
- Treat people the way you’d like to be treated. How would you like a new person to act towards you? Would you like them to walk up confidently while being friendly and making you feel at ease? Then that’s how you should approach networking event strangers (people you haven’t met yet who may become new friends) at events. The one thing everyone knows at a networking event is that we’re all there to meet new people so walking up to a new face and saying, “What made you want to come here?” isn’t a weird thing to do.
- Network to meet quality people, not to make sales. You want to begin good relationships, so don’t expect to make instant sales transactions. No one likes to be sold to and it feels creepy to be treated like a wallet instead of a person. Be the person others say great things about, not the person who vomits their sales pitch on new people while trying to convince them that their company, services or products are cool.
- See every conversation as an opportunity. Amazing things start from simple conversations. Talking with each other is how we share what we care about, learn new ideas, negotiate ways to help each other, and create next steps in life and business. You never know what great people and opportunities are just a conversation away.
- Set an outcome goal for your networking time that will make you feel great when you leave. The best way to ensure success is to set small easy goals. Good attainable outcomes include meeting one worthwhile contact, sharing at least one helpful resource (idea, contact, website, book, event, etc.) with someone, or making at least one person laugh. Focus on meeting a few quality people rather than a quantity of general people. By taking the focus off of hard outcomes like finding a client or a certain number of business prospects, you’ll be happier and more effective at having meaningful interactions with people.
- Ask great questions. Make people smile, laugh and share things they care about. You can ask more meaningful questions like, “What was one of your favorite times in nature?” At New Tech events we have people ask each other, “What are you up to and how can I help?” Questions like this make both you and the person you’re talking to more interesting while making you both feel better.
- Carry a pen and write on people’s cards. Yes, I know everyone has a phone now, but it’s still more effective to get someone’s card and write conversation context notes on the card. If you meet someone looking for a UX designer job, or you want to connect them to another friend, you’ll be grateful for the reminder when you read their card tomorrow. If you meet someone who doesn’t have a card you can write their email address on one of your cards for better follow up.
- Meet people with an attitude of listening to them and learning about who they are, what they need and how you can help them. This allows you to exhale, drop the stress in your shoulders, and shift your agenda to making a few fun an meaningful connections rather than trying to hand out as many business cards as possible before you leave. The worst case scenario here is that you meet a couple of quality people, learn something interesting you didn’t know before. Listen 80% of the time, talk 20% of the time and you’ll walk away with someone who thinks you’re great and new information from an interesting person.
Remember that the people you’re meeting are feeling some of the same things you feel and you’re both there to have a good time meeting great people. There’s really nothing to be afraid of, unless a Sasquatch gets invited to the event, so take a breath, smile and go meet people who may be key to the next steps in your future.