Like most people who work in public relations, I consider myself to be a social person. On any given day I have meetings with clients, lunches with reporters, events with business leaders, and can carry a conversation with ease. But, for some reason, when I find myself alone in a room full of people who I don’t know at a proclaimed “networking event” I feel a small sense of panic (gulp) before I approach a stranger. As I make my way across the room to “network” I all of a sudden feel like I’m on my way to a first date.
To ease the pre-networking jitters, here are some tips from the top networkers at D+P. Follow these steps and you’ll be working the room in no time.
Break the ice.
It’s easier to start a conversation with someone when there isn’t much competition, so arrive to a networking event on time, or even a few minutes early. The room won’t be crowded yet and you’ll have the chance to get to know a few people before the masses arrive. Approaching someone in a room of five people is less intimidating than a room full of 100 people already engaged in conversation.
Make them feel special.
Talking too much about yourself will turn people off. Ask questions about the other person and their work, and try to find common ground so you can mutually discuss something. Make eye contact and remember their name so you can address them directly and introduce them to others who join the conversation.
Like speed dating, there are usually enough people at a networking event to make it difficult to spend much time with each person. Don’t be afraid to be forward and ask, “How can I help you?” and make sure that you can easily answer the same question. What is your goal for the networking event? Meet potential new clients, break into a certain industry, find a new job? Be able to quickly articulate this goal in a way that doesn’t make you sound “salesy.”
You wouldn’t let the love of your life get away without asking for their phone number, so don’t leave without asking for your next client/employer/vendor’s business card. A tip from a veteran networker is to ask for two cards – one for yourself and one to pass along to someone else who might benefit from this person’s products or services. Also, make sure you bring enough cards with you to make your way around the room.
If you say you’ll call, call!
The whole, “wait-a-few-days-so-you-don’t-seem-to-eager” move doesn’t usually pan out after you meet someone at a networking event. Email, tweet, or connect on Linkedin within 24 hours of meeting them. Mention something specific that you talked about (social media trends, your mutual alma mater, a person you both know) to cue their memory in case they met another “Joe” or “Kiera” at the event. Then, invite them to a coffee or lunch meeting to continue the conversation.
Practice does make perfect.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes. As you meet more and more people, try to stay in touch with key contacts you have made, you never know when they might be able to help you meet your goals. Keep your eyes open and keep networking.
What are your top networking tips to avoid the “first date” jitters?