Making your way through a networking function

Get the party started

If you’re a gregarious person who looks forward to social events, loves meeting new people and has the ability to work a room — congratulations! You’re a perfect candidate for any networking event. But let’s be realistic and address a far more common scenario. For the shy as well as the many brilliant businesspeople out there who are introverted, there are few situations more intimidating than entering a roomful of people. The prospect can be so daunting, it prohibits many from attending networking events at all.

There are common themes around networking events, especially from those who are more reserved, among them:

  • “I often feel that new people I meet at these events might not necessarily be interested in what I do.”
  • “When I enter a networking event, it seems as though everyone there already knows each other and I’m a stranger.”
  • “I never know who to talk to first.”
  • “I have difficulty starting conversations with strangers.”
  • “Because people are already conversing, I feel as though I’d be interrupting them to introduce myself, so I just don’t do it.”

These are all valid issues, although usually incorrect assessments of networking situations. Let’s take for example the first complaint. “I often get the feeling attendees might not necessarily be interested in what I do.”

Grasping your value

It’s not about what you do. Most novice networkers think when going to a networking event, it’s about them: who they can meet and what they can accomplish for their own business. Instead, think of networking as a way to help – connecting others with people that you know who might be beneficial to their business. So it’s not at all about what you do but who you might know. Do you coach a Little League team? Sing in a church choir? Are you involved in the PTA? Sit on a board for a nonprofit? Look at all the people you know! If you feel as though you are only your job — what you do — then you are right; it sure is going to be uncomfortable and boring for anyone you’re talking to. But if you think of yourself like a walking contact list, then you can also understand the value you bring. You are now able to listen when people talk about what they do and make connections. By maintaining this mindset, you’ll be eager to attend many events. More importantly though, people are going to be eager to meet, and get to know you. 

Roomful of strangers

Now that you understand that networking is not about you but about others, think about your initial concerns about entering an event and feeling as if you’re a stranger in a room full of people who know each other. Sure, it’s quite possible that some people do already know each other. Smart businesspeople tend to recognize the benefits of connecting by networking and attend many similar events. This means the more networking events you go to, the greater the chances that you will know people there. So given time and numerous events, you’ll no longer feel like an outsider, and not only will you be on the networking fast-track, but you’ll find yourself in the networking inside track. 

Suppose this is your first event and it appears that everyone in the room is engaged in conversation. Chances are there are also many strangers within the group — although they may not be as readily apparent on the surface, and you may have to seek them out. Networking organizers understand the value of inviting a variety of guests to these events, so the opportunities remain fresh, meaning there are always new people with whom to exchange information.

Avoid being fashionably late 

Arriving at networking functions fashionably late will work against you if you find these events intimidating. As mentioned earlier, if you are not accustomed to making an entrance, there may be nothing more frightening than stepping into a crowded room. So, instead, arrive on time or even a bit early.

Sometimes it’s not who you know … it’s where you stand

Placing yourself at the rear of the room, by the restrooms or in a corner will not serve you well in a networking scenario and can actually do you more harm than if you stayed at home. The preferable spot is by the entrance so you greet people as they enter. This is not to say you should overshadow the actual hosts of the event, but rather, position yourself so that you are able to extend a greeting to those passing. By acting like a host, rather than being a guest, you put yourself in control of the experience. More importantly, you will be perceived as someone confident and in the know and someone that others want to meet. 

No selling allowed

Playing host at an event definitely adds an element of success to networking — and can be a breeze once you get into the swing of it. But there’s one thing that you need to avoid doing at all costs during any type of networking event: selling. 

Networking is about helping others achieve their goals. Rather than approaching the event as a way to increase your business, consider it an opportunity to form new relationships to do good. Believe it or not, this tactic takes the pressure off you for the night. Now you can move about the room freely, without the burden of feeling as though you are there to drum up business. 

Start the conversation 

Everyone attending a networking event is there for the same reason: to engage in really great conversations that can open doors to new connections or future business relationships. 

Excellent conversation starters include:

  • “What brings you here?”
  • “Do you know many people here?” 
  • “What type of business are you in? 
  • “What made you come to this event?” 
  • “What’s the best part of your job?” 
  • “How do you typically spend your day?”
  • “Whom can I introduce you to in this room?”
  • And the most important of all, “How can I help you with your business?” 

Think about it: how often do you call someone you know on a business level and ask what you can do for them? But that is exactly what networking is about — doing for others. In the long run, you do often receive back what you give. 

Working the room

Position yourself at the entrance of the room as people are arriving. Once the gathering is underway, maneuver your way around the room by starting on the outside of the group along the wall and walk the wall, introducing yourself to every person that you see.

An effective networker can work a room by moving around, not standing still, but in all probability most people in the room aren’t moving. That’s because they haven’t figured out the host act yet. Make eye contact, say hello, shake hands warmly and firmly. Talk to each individual by asking what they do and why they are there. Once you know why they are in attendance, it’s easy to figure out to whom to introduce them. Keep each person you meet in mind as you work your way around the room, all the while considering who you can match up. Remember, you are all at the same event — it’s just that you know what to do! Keep connecting as you go, but don’t just point out Jim to Sue; take Sue over to meet Jim and introduce them. That is, after all, what a gracious host does.

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