Networking is hard enough—and when you add a beverage and business cards, the juggling becomes its own challenge. These tips will help you maneuver gracefully through your next networking opportunity.
By Rebecca Hawk
You know that capitalizing on a networking opportunity depends on going in with clear goals and following up. Managing the physical aspects of a networking event—juggling a drink and hors d'oeuvres while clutching your bag and exchanging business cards—is another feat entirely. Read on for tips on how to maneuver with confidence during your next networking event.
Dress for the occasion. While your clothing should be polished and professional, it should also allow you to move freely and stash small belongings. Take time to look your best, even if the dress code is casual or business casual.
- Wear something that's easy to pin a nametag to (and will hold up to the weight of a nametag), like a blazer with a lapel or a shirt with a sturdy pocket.
- Choose comfortable shoes. You might not be able to snag a seat, and chances are, you'll be moving around as you mingle.
- Travel light in case there isn't any place to stash larger items, and use a shoulder or cross-body bag to keep your hands free.
- Prepare for fluctuating temperatures, indoors or out: Bring a jacket or sweater.
When you arrive at a networking event, take a lap: Move around the perimeter of the room. You're almost certain to start a conversation along the way.
Juggle food and drinks effectively. Instead of forgoing food and drinks entirely, be strategic about your snacking.
- When you arrive, scan the room to see if there's a spot to safely stow your bag or jacket. Locate trashcans or other appropriate receptacles where you can place used plates and cups.
- Those mini mac-and-cheese bowls look great, but try to stick with bite-sized finger foods so that at least one of your hands is free.
- Alcohol can be a touchy subject, especially in professional settings. If you're not comfortable drinking an alcoholic beverage at a professional event, consider a sparkling water or a soda, and ask the bartender for a lemon or lime. If you're planning to imbibe, stick to one or two drinks.
- If you spill something, don't worry—it happens to everyone. Laugh it off, clean up in the restroom, and get back in the mix.
Approach groups with confidence, and exit conversations with grace. If the thought of starting or ending a conversation with new people is intimidating, come prepared with a strategy.
- When you arrive, take a lap: Move around the perimeter of the room. You're almost certain to start a conversation along the way. Or, consider stationing yourself at the food or drink table, where you can strike up a conversation with someone next to you in line.
Once you meet someone, be ready with a few icebreaker questions. For example: "I love these bacon-wrapped scallops; what's your favorite appetizer so far?" or "I see that you have your CAE—congratulations! Have you found it to be a beneficial certification to hold?"
- If you're interested in joining a conversation with a group, don't be shy. Step up to the group and listen before offering a thought or introduction. Having some standard introductory lines can help ease any nerves. Try something like, "Hello. Your comment about (insert topic) caught my attention, can you tell me more?
- If you find yourself on the other side of the equation—where a newcomer approaches a group you are talking with—use welcoming, inclusive body language to illustrate that you're open to talking. You can incorporate newcomers into the conversation by saying something like, "Welcome to the conversation, I don't believe we've met yet." Or, better yet, act as a connector and introduce the newcomer to others in the group.
- When you feel ready to move on from a conversation, be courteous. Exit politely by saying something like, "It was such a pleasure talking with you." If you'd like to connect with a new contact in the future, make sure to exchange business cards and obtain the person's best contact information before you exit.
Networking events don't need to be stressful. By scoping out the space and coming in with a strategy, you'll be well prepared to make new connections.
Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]