Networking Tips

How to Handle Your First Networking Event

I still remember my first networking event. I stressed about all kinds of details. What was I going to wear? How should I wear my hair? Do I bring a purse or a card case? I worried about all the wrong details: all the superficial things that could lead to judgment, not the things that could lead to advancement. I was essentially asking myself, how do I avoid being judged by these strangers? Perhaps worse, I had decided that my worth was tied to appearances. The event was a complete failure in terms of connecting with professionals who could help me grow. My dress, however, was a big hit.

Many years later, I have some advice to give to my much younger self heading to her first networking event. If I had done of some of these things much sooner in my career, I would have saved myself a great deal of anxiety and heartache.

Set a Goal

In business, I often ask clients, “What’s your goal? What are you trying to accomplish?” Goal setting has much greater reach than business application. What is your goal in attending the event? Do you want to meet 5 new people? Do you want to meet the manager of the business that you want to work for? Do you want to connect with a prospect that you’ve been too intimidated to call or email? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you be focused, and the event will be more successful for you.

Practice Your Intro

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone at a conference or an event who doesn’t know how to introduce themselves properly. Practice your greeting. Say your first AND last name clearly. State your title and place of work. Shake my hand. Look me in the eye. Don’t have a mouth full of food and offer me your greasy paw as my first impression of you. You’ve got one chance to connect with this person. Make it count.

Eat Before You Go

The food at networking events can be super awesome. Caterers work hard to wow the crowd and (hopefully) secure future work. Don’t be lured in! You have a goal, remember? You are there to meet people, get connected, find a mentor, get a contract, and so on. Don’t waste your precious opportunities by hovering over the buffet.

Ask Questions

Networking is not about you. Let me say that again. In fact, recite it over and over to yourself. Networking is not about you. If you meet a new contact, prospect, mentor, future employer, or customer, asking them about themselves will turn your 30 second interaction into a meeting, a sale, a business relationship. Ask about their company, ask about what they are excited about right now, ask about what is coming down the pipe in development or production. The more interested you are in them, the more interested they will be in you.

Decide in Advance What Success Looks Like

If you set a goal to meet 5 new people and you don’t meet 5, have you failed? Determine what counts for you as success. If you talk to 3 new people, that’s still 3 more than you knew before you arrived. Networking is a slow process of building relationships.

It doesn’t happen overnight. Cut yourself a little bit of slack in the beginning. Over time, you will get better and more polished. And, before you know it, you’ll have a robust network that raises you up and helps you succeed more than you ever could on your own.
Are You Ready to Start Your Project?