You’ve mastered the art of the cold email, joined all the professional associations in your field, and your LinkedIn profile is in fighting shape. Networking = done, right?
Not quite. What about your in-person networking skills? Despite our advances in tech and digital communication, those still matter. Until robots completely take over the earth, you need to know how to hold your own at a real, live professional networking event. (Gasp!)
The crowd, vibe, and purpose of every event you attend is going to vary, but here are a few universal tips that can help you get the most out of your IRL networking event.
1. Use the Buddy System
This one isn’t applicable to every event; there will be times when you’ll have to network solo. But, it can be advantageous to partner up whenever it makes sense for both you and a friend or colleague. A networking buddy can help you scope out the room, introduce you to people, and save you from unproductive or awkward conversations. It’s always a good idea to work out a visual “S.O.S.” signal ahead of time that both of you can interpret from across a crowded room.
2. Do Your Research
If possible, get ahold of the list of attendees and map out who you want to speak to. This will prevent you from pointlessly roaming around the room or resorting to burying your face in your phone. Having a game plan can also help you escape some of those aforementioned awkward conversations. It’s always easier to say, “Oh, excuse me, I need to make sure to speak with Susy Salgado before she leaves” than “Uh, I gotta go.”
3. Have a Few Talking Points
You aren’t going on an interview, but it doesn’t hurt to prep as if you were. Be ready to talk about your current role, your goals, your ideas about your industry, etc. Base these talking points on what you want to get out of the networking event.
4. Practice Active Listening
Remember that, like any relationship, networking is a two-way street. Be sure that you’re asking thoughtful questions of your fellow networkers and actually listening to their answers. Your follow-up communication will be much more effective if you can reference some personalized information.
5. Eat Beforehand
Many networking events provide snacks, but you’re better off eating something before you go. It’s hard to make a good impression with mouthful of crudité. And nobody wants to worry about garlic breath, crumby fingers, or the paper plate/handshake balancing act. If you’re really hungry, grab a few bites of the simplest, least messy food available and then get back to the task at hand.
6. Seltzer with lime Is Your Friend
Networking events may take place after work, but that doesn’t mean it’s happy hour. If you must imbibe, limit yourself to one alcoholic drink and sip it slowly throughout the night. But, your best bet is to abstain all together and opt for seltzer with lime. It looks like a cocktail, but won’t lead to inappropriate jokes or regrettable oversharing. Plus, it will keep you hydrated while you make the rounds.
7. Add Flair
Professionalism is key, but that doesn’t mean you have to blend in with the crowd. If you truly want to expand your network, you need to be memorable. Is there a colorful article of clothing, an interesting piece of jewelry, or a stylish necktie that consistently generates compliments? Wear something that reflects your personality and inspires conversation. Here’s another quick tip: always wear your nametag on the right-hand lapel. Since most people shake with their right hand, this will put your name in the eyeline of the person with whom you are speaking.
8. Follow Up
Even though the networking event is over, your work is just beginning. As soon as you can (that night, if possible) sort through all the business cards you collected and jot down everything you can remember. Did you promise to send an article or make an introduction to another colleague? Write it down so you don’t forget. And then follow up within a few days with a friendly but purposeful email. These emails are especially beneficial when you include some of the personal details your learned when you were practicing your active listening at the event.
Feel ready? Pop a breath mint and get out there, ninja! We promise that it’s worth your time (and actually kind of fun) to put your phone in your back pocket for a couple hours and interact with real, live humans.
What are some of your favorite IRL networking tips?