How To Break In and Stand Out at a Networking Event
When you’re in business for yourself, you need to network, however, not all of us are masters at this skill. For anyone, and especially for introverts, networking can be daunting and extremely uncomfortable.
It’s easy to envy the smooth talker who can pick up on any subject and roll with it. It’s not so easy to come up with ways to make small talk or to approach people you don’t know; yet it is essential to your business success.
Instead of dreading the proverbial networking event, think of it as an opportunity to meet like-minded people who share your enthusiasm for business. Here are seven tips to get you started.
1. Psych yourself “in.”
Instead of psyching yourself out when anticipating a networking event, convince yourself that you are there to make friends, and treat people as such. Throw out the notion that you are trying to make a business contact or sale. Go to an event with a service mentality. In other words, always keep in mind what you can do for others instead of what they can do for you.
2. Put away your mobile device.
If you are staring at your phone or texting you are unlikely to be approached or be considered approachable. A networking event is your opportunity to personally connect with other people in the room. Leave your phone in your pocket or purse, or better yet, in the car. You'll want to avoid the temptation to scan it every few minutes or jump when a new text message comes in.
3. Introduce yourself.
Look around the room for a group that seems to be having a good time, then walk up and make eye contact. One entrée is to say, “You all seem to having a good time, mind if I join you?” If they say yes, simply listen to their existing conversation and join in when you have something to add. Or you can politely eaves drop and say, “I couldn’t help but overhear you all talking about such-and-such. Do you mind if I join you?”
4. Prepare some opening topics.
Scan the news or current events, or come up with one or more topics related to the event or the group before you arrive. This will make it easier to approach someone you don’t know. Or you can always talk about something or someone you and another person have in common. For example, walk up and say, “Jim sure does throw the most outstanding parties.” Don't forget to give a firm handshake and say your first and last name, and something about yourself. Doing this will open the door to a true connection.
5. Assume others will like you.
Many people are so fearful that others won’t like or accept them that they are shy about meeting someone new. Change your mindset to “I’m likeable” and you will feel more confident in initiating a conversation.
Related: Networking Is a Contact Sport
6. Help someone else.
It’s always easier to approach someone who is standing or sitting alone versus a large crowd of people. That person may be shy and desperately want to be part of a group, but may have no idea on how to enter a conversation. Once you find out a little bit about that person, invite them to come with you so you can introduce them to someone else.
7. Show enthusiasm.
Show real interest in what another person is saying, even if you don’t find the topic that interesting. You never know—this person might be just the liaison you need to make your next big deal. Listen actively and ask engaging questions. He or she will be flattered by your attention.
Once you have practiced these skills a few times, you will begin to feel more comfortable. Remember the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” More importantly, “it’s who knows you.” Networking offers a solid opportunity to create new friends and allies, so get out of your comfort zone and make some connections.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).