By Kim Littlefield, Senior Vice President for Keystone Partners
Networking events can always feel a little overwhelming, especially when it seems like everyone is already speaking with someone when you enter the room. It’s important to prepare for these events to ensure that they are fun and that good connections are made. Here are some best practices to get the most out of networking events:
Prior to an event try to find out who will be attending. Many organizations post a list of attendees on their website. This will give you a sneak preview on the attending industries and companies to help determine appropriate conversation topics. You might recognize a former colleague's name, too.
Arrive early to networking events. Arriving early will provide the opportunity to meet speakers or panelists. It will also give you the chance to breathe and evaluate your surroundings: Scan the room for a place to sit; map out the restroom and the location of food and drinks. This allows you to act somewhat as a host/hostess giving you another role to play versus just networking.
Make an effort to remember the name of each new person you meet. Making this an ‘assigned task’ makes a big difference. Find ways to repeat the person’s name out loud and in your head. Use their name in conversation when you introduce them to another attendee or when you part ways. Also, try to associate the person with something: For example, does their name rhyme with something? Translate to something? Do they have the same name as someone you already know? Can you make a funny cartoon in your mind picturing the person doing something that relates to their name? For example, if their last name is VanHattan, you might picture them driving in a van with a big hat on top of it. Silly? Maybe, but it works!
Breaking into a conversation. The simplest way to insert yourself into a conversation is to smile, say hello, and introduce yourself. Look for groups of people having fun or larger groups that may have become fragmented. Avoid two people in an intense conversation. If you feel like you are interrupting, you probably are.
Exiting the conversation. To break out of a conversation, it’s always best to be honest. If you need to “grab a drink” or “use the restroom,” it’s okay to say so, but be sure to do it. Also, simply saying, “It was nice meeting you. I’d like to stay in touch,” and offering your card is a great way to break out. Getting someone’s contact information so you can follow up and have time to meet others is a sign you have successfully interacted and made an impression.
Networking is about building mutually beneficial lasting relationships. Developing a strong network takes effort—but the benefits are well worth it.
Kim is a senior vice president for Keystone Partners, where she has more than 15 years of experience in talent management and business development. Kim consults with organizations and senior executives on complex career transitions and workforce planning issues, as well as talent development initiatives.