One of the hardest things that I find about walking into a networking event is that, usually, I don’t know many people there.
Heightening that challenge is that I’ve generally tried to do a bit of pre-work to identify a couple of key attendees at the event that I want to try and connect with, to start a conversation with, to start to build a relationship.
This means that I’m walking into the event with some objectives that I’ve set myself to achieve, but unless I can find a way to track my targets down then the networking event is pretty much a waste of time.
Here’s the techniques that I use to try and start a conversation with people that I don’t know, and the people that I want to get to know.
Look like you want to start a conversation
When you walk into a room full of unfamiliar faces and you’re feeling a bit vulnerable and uncomfortable, it’s very easy to pull out your phone and start looking at your emails – or at least pretend to look at your emails.
This is sending a clear sign to everyone that you aren’t interested in speaking, and that you’d prefer to be left alone.
Put your phone away and don’t shy away from eye-contact.
Look for situations to create conversations
Often, when you walk into a business networking event, everyone already seems to be engrossed in conversations – small groups have formed, and everyone’s back seems to be towards you.
Head to the bar or the buffet – try and connect with other people waiting to get a drink or food. Thinking about food or drink is a point when people are in transition from one conversation to the next, so it’s a good opportunity to connect with them or at least try to initiate a conversation.
Try being up-front and honest
It’s okay to introduce yourself and say something like – “Hi there, I don’t really know many people here, can I join your conversation?”
Everyone is there to network, no one is going to say no – they’ll respond positively to your initiative.
Ask open-ended questions
You’ll get more value out of your conversations if you create opportunities for the discussion to flow. Closed questions can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Examples of closed questions include:
- Is this your first time at this event?
- Is this venue close to your office?
- That’s a nice jacket — is red your favourite colour?
Examples of good open-ended questions include:
- Tell me why you’ve chosen to attend this networking event?
- Where are you planning on spending your summer vacation?
- I wasn’t sure if I’d got the dress-code right, does this jacket work for business-casual?
Be a good listener
Try and avoid talking too much about yourself. Listen attentively to what the person you’re speaking with is saying. Ask follow-up questions, and use body language that demonstrates that you’re interested in what they’re saying.
You’re there to connect with other people and learn about them. You already know all about you.