8 Tips For Networking In the Real World

Everyone knows the benefits of networking, but knowing something and doing it aren’t always the same thing.  I’ve had to drag colleagues, friends and my husband to networking events and I’ve been dragged to a few myself. The time before the event is generally the worst part.  That’s the period when you come up with a bunch of terrific excuses for not going. The anticipation of doing something that may not feel natural can take on huge proportions. You can reduce some of that stress by setting a few simple goals for yourself.  Decide that you will meet two or three new people. You can promise to hand out at least one business card. Once you get going you’ll probably find it’s not as hard as you thought.  Keep in mind that there is a good possibility that the other people at the event are either anticipating meeting someone new or as anxious about the process as you are.

The following tips are intended to help you ease your way into working a room and having good conversations. Remember, this is not all about you and don’t forget your business cards.

1)      Find the loners.

So you show up at an event alone and you’ve promised yourself you’re going to work the room…where to start? Look for someone who’s also on their own. Chances are they want someone to talk to as well.  It’s way easier to chat with someone on their own than trying to elbow your way into a group deep in discussion.

 2)      Talk to the big shots.

Talk to the big wigs in the room. No, I’m not suggesting you’re a snob, but powerful or popular people are used to people wanting to talk them and many know how to make that small talk that opens up larger conversations.  Chances are, most people will be too intimidated to approach them. If there is a guest speaker, talk to them before they speak or speak to the host or moderator.  Afterwards, they will most likely be swamped.

3)      Ask a simple question to get started.

Starting a conversation is as easy as asking a simple question or paying a compliment.  The idea here is not to demonstrate the depths of your knowledge.  This is also not an elevator pitch where you have a timer on engagement. This is simply about getting a conversation going and not freaking yourself out in the process. Consider the following:

  • “What brings you to this event?”
  • “Have you attended one of these events before?”
  • “What are you looking forward to?”
  • “Have you tried the meatballs?”
  • “That’s a beautiful tie.”
  • “What a lovely dress.”
  • “It’s hot in here isn’t it?”

4)      Ask about what they do.

Once you are warmed up, now’s the time to ask intelligent questions so you can get a good conversation started, but don’t be shy about starting with the basics. What do they do? What projects are they working on? What do they like about what they do? Let them know you are really interested in what they are saying. In order to ask intelligent questions specific to them, you actually have to be paying attention.

5)       Ask about them.

Take the time required to learn a little about the person.  What are their hobbies?  Who are their family members? Do they have kids? Get to know the human being you are speaking to not just their name and job.

6)       Do be quiet and stop talking.

No really, the fastest way to a good conversation is letting the other person talk, preferably about themselves. Letting them talk is about more than staying silent and staring into space. It’s about actively listening to them. Periodically confirm that you have heard by nodding or in some other subtle way letting them know that you are following along.

Mimic the movements of the person you are speaking to. Sit forward when they do and step back when they step back.  By following their physical behaviour you will pick up clues about what they are thinking or feeling about the conversation. Take a look at the tips found in “Rather Have A Conversation Or A Meeting?”  for additional ideas.

7)       Don’t drone.

The sound of boredom is distinct, unmistakable actually, so be careful to monitor your tone. When it’s your turn to speak make sure you sound interested, engaged and positive. If you sound bored or irritated, the conversation will quickly come to an end. Also don’t go on and on about you. Don’t hesitate to show your passion, but allow the other person to show theirs too.

The secret to a good conversation is showing respect for the people you are engaging. Looking over their shoulder for the next person you are going to talk to or looking repeatedly at your watch is not showing respect. If you find yourself with a cling-on, that person who has chosen you as their companion for the evening, even if you have other plans, make an excuse and walk away.  You can try saying you have to use the facilities or that you promised “your husband, babysitter, boss…insert plausible person here” that you would call.

8) Don’t let the event be your first and last point of contact.

After going to the trouble of making the most of the event, follow up with the connections you make.  Connect on LinkedIn, send an article related to the conversation you were having.  Invite your new contact out for coffee or lunch.

Do you have any good tips for networking? What do you do to prepare for a networking event?


0 responses to “8 Tips For Networking In the Real World

  • Simone Hart says:
    June 18, 2013 @ 07:40 am

    Excellent ideas. Not only for networking but for purely social activities. Always look forward to the next installement.

  • Great tips! Networking makes me nervous for sure! It is like engaging in forced conversations over and over again, yet in the end you can end up meeting some pretty great people. It is definitely something that is necessary for success.

    • I’ve never been a big fan of networking events, but they are impossible to avoid when you’re in government relations or communications, especially if it’s your event. 🙂 So, I’ve learned to just dive in and what do you know, I always have fun.

  • It’s been a while since I went to any event but I’m usually the loner.

  • Laurel says:
    June 18, 2013 @ 10:47 am

    Good article Debra! I especially adhere to point #5…ask about them. I have yet to meet someone at a networking event who does not want to talk about themselves. This is not a negative, it speaks to their comfort zone. They know themselves and your interest in their job, hobbies or kids certain does go the distance to opening doors when getting to know someone better. Most often, it is here that you find commonalities…you both know so and so, you both attended that policy conference, your kids both take skating lessons at the local arena.
    The follow up is also paramount. Don’t let this opportunity stand alone: reconnect and make a coffee date. Since you have already had a chance to talk about the small stuff, now reconnect and hash out where you really connect and have even more substantial things to share.

    • Thanks Laurel, the follow up is the piece that people most frequently forget and yet it the most crucial bit, especially if you were connecting with a business contact.

  • I used to host drinks events for expats here, and that was nice because I was a focus. But when I attended such events it became much harder. These tips are spot on. It is sometimes just a little harder to put theory into practice.

    One thing I found interesting when meeting a random person at such events is not asking the usual questions. People get sick of repeating themselves all night and at east event. And as an ex-host I sure was. So I always thought up a question no one expects, that told me something interesting about the person or what they had done lately. It breaks the ice, opens them up, gets them to think and is fun – what was the most amazing vacation destination you ever chose?

    • I love the idea of asking original questions. What I’ve heard back from nervous clients and friends is that when they are at the point of delivery they freeze up or feel awkward, so asking something simple to start generally gets them past that moment and then all that cleverness can shine. If that’s not the issue, then getting someone going with a laugh, surprise or intrigue is spot on.

  • Good suggestions for people who are not used to networking.

    Personally am really used to attend seminars and events with top politicians and leaders. Hence don’t agree with you at all about people not daring to talk to the big shots. On the contrary they are all lining up. Loved to be the only woman amongst the suits and, without failure, the big shot wanted to talk to me.

    For such seminars and events, including at think tanks, it works very well to be the first one to stand up and ask an intelligent question. They all remember you after that and all you need to do is walk up to them and ask for a meeting and they will agree.

    • Thanks Caterina. I have learned to have fun at networking events, but that comes from 20 years of attending and hosting them. There are still a few that I attend that are so full of self-conscious people that they can be almost painful. As to the powerful or popular person being flocked, for sure that happens. I’ve also had to speak to Ministers who were left standing on their own so that I could break the ice for the others in the room and I’ve had to hit a fork against a wine glass to get the attention of a room full of people so that a Premier (the guest of honour) could speak. This after he and his handlers had tried to get the attention of those in the room. 🙂

  • I have been to a lot of networking meetings. Some I really enjoyed. We are mostly all there for the same reason, so I find conversations easy to start up. It’s the follow-through that I fall short on.

    • I think once it sinks in that it wouldn’t be a “networking” event unless people expected to network, it makes life easier. 🙂 I used to hate them, now they don’t phase me. My husband and children always comment on the fact that whether I’m at a motorcycle enthusiasts event or Parliament Hill reception, they can always find me talking and laughing.

  • I go to alot of events, but even times I get nervous and don’t know what to day…nor do I approach the “right” people for conversation. This helps a bit. Well more than that, because I want to start networking for publishing my book.

    • I can only imagine the diversity of people you will have a chance to meet as you promote your new book. The great thing about doing book tours or signings is that you have a built in topic for discussion…your book. 🙂

      • Well, I dunno about book tours and stuff….but I’m trying to get out there

        • I had to laugh at the hesitation around book tours etc. A friend of mine wrote a book that crossed yoga with financial planning. Then she went to all of the local Chapter’s stores in Ottawa and asked them to carry copies of her book on the “local authors” shelves. Next, she started calling the local radio and television stations to ask for interviews, “local author writes on unusual topic”. Her book got placed on shelves and she was on both TV and radio. She also went to conferences and set up a table with her books etc., etc. I’m in communications and I know what she did was spot on, but boy did I cringe internally at the thought of doing it for a book of my own. If that’s what’s happening with you, throw that cringe feeling away or just ignore it and go! 🙂

  • This is really great…Thank you for sharing these tips to us. 🙂

  • Wonderful advice – thanks for sharing!

  • Hi! I usually participate at a lot of networking events and after reading your article, I saw that I deployed quite a few of your tips! 🙂
    Great list and a really easy-to-follow article! Enjoyed it!

    PS: Don’t forget about the business cards! 😉

    • Thanks very much John. I have to admit that the thing I’m most like to do wrong is forget the cards. I have now gotten into the habit of putting cards in my car, my laptop bag and my purse. 🙂

  • These are all great networking tips! These sorts of events can be rather awkward. I find following through with at least one or two people immediately after the event is helpful. That’s how I got a new blog post written so quickly after connecting with the person next to me at an event.

    • Thank you. That’s very true about the importance of a quick follow up. I find the longer you delay before following up, the more awkward it can seem. In fact, one of things I’ve seen time and again is that people procrastinate for so long that they start to wonder if the other person even remembers them. If nothing else, a quick email or LinkedIn request the next day is a good idea.

  • These are the great networking tips because it’s easy for things to go wrong and be awkward too. Thank you for sharing this list; it is informative and helpful. I will consider all of them. Thanks 🙂

  • These are great tips, Debra! I’ve never attended a professional networking event, but I should start attending them since I graduate from college next year and need to start making those connections! Definitely bookmarking this as a reminder 🙂

    • Thanks Morgan. Networking events are eventually a part of life no matter what industry you’re in and the benefits are many. A friend of mine jokes that if you don’t want to network, then go for the food and wine because some of the best chats she’s had, have been while standing at the food table. I have to admit, I was at a fundraiser a week or so back and one of the funniest political conversations I’ve had in a while was while I was standing in a line to get a glass of wine. 🙂

  • Great post here Debra. As a wallflower I am always looking for tips to help me integrate into social situations a little bit easier and networking is something I suck at in general. I really liked how you said find the loner and how it can be easier to start with that person. Also I like how you pointed out to listen. So many times when I do talk to people they never care what I have to say. They just want to talk lol. Great post. I look forward to the next!

    • Thanks William. Some people love to network and are naturals at it, for the rest of us, its a learned activity. I was chatting with a colleague the other day and mentioning how much work networking is and she stood there with her mouth open before saying to me, “But you’re so good at it.”

      All I can say in response to that is, practice makes perfect. 🙂

  • All good ideas, particularly about reaching out to the loners. However, you should avoid breaking into a conversation between two people. They may be discussing business or starting a new business relationship. If there are no loners, then approach a group and say something like, “this looks like a friendly group. May I join you?”

    • Thanks Jeannette. Good point about the two way conversations! If two people are making a great connection, the last thing you want to become is the third wheel.

  • Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) says:
    June 19, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    These are great tips that I’ll be sure to keep in mind when I’m at my first writer’s conference in Seattle at the end of July. I’m a great listener as it takes me a while to open up to people. My greatest challenge is reciprocating when people share info about themselves. I’m horrible when it comes to asking questions about people I meet face-to-face. It’s like my brain goes haywire since it’s usually on social anxiety overload. Hmmm, the challenges of being an introvert 😉

    • Have fun at your writers conference, very cool! I would love to see a post about it.

      You write such great character portraits that you’d probably ask some pretty amazing questions about people once you got comfortable enough to ask. Questions or comments about simple things like the food, the weather and event are really just about giving yourself enough space to get comfortable. 🙂

  • Looking at your watch all the time demonstrates both a lack of interest and disrespect. It’s also annoying! Don’t be that person!

    • I have to admit that a personal pet peeve of mine is people who look over the shoulder of the person they are talking to in order to find their next subject. Even if I’m the person they are looking to talk to next I’m irritated.

      As to the looking at the watch thing, unless you’re the event organizer and its your job to keep things on schedule, I agree, don’t be that person. Actually, even when I am the organizer (not the host) I usually arrange to stay back from the main activity so that I don’t end up doing that.

  • Arleen says:
    June 20, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    As Always I love your articles. Networking events can be overwhelming. I have been to one and I don’t know if I would go back to another. However, I thought that your questions to break the ice were great as they can be used in any form of business to get a response. Your #5 To Ask About them should be number one for anyone who is trying to relate to someone in business.

    • Thanks Arleen, I appreciate the feedback. Sorry to hear that your last networking event was less than inspiring. It’s going to sound like your mom talking, but I have found I get out of them what I put in. If I go full of trepidation and resistance, I’ll generally find a reason to justify my anxiety. If I go to have fun, there is little that phases me and believe me, while I love public speaking, I do NOT have a natural love of networking.

      Having said all of that there are some groups that for any number of reasons are closed. Whether you’re dealing with an old boys network or simply a group of people who know each other well, sometimes networking events can be awkward. The things to keep in mind about a really closed network is that, most of the time they will eventually die from a lack of new blood and there are bound to be other people who want to network and who are not part of the old club…connect with them. 🙂

  • I am getting better at doing steps similar to these in face to face interactions. For much of my life social settings have been marked by moments of awkwardness. Social anxiety is a normal thing in the life of an introvert.

    Practice has never done much to take away the fear or uneasy feelings. But it does help in pushing through those feelings when you focus on simple steps like these.

    I still dread handing out business cards, but I still manage to hand out one or more when I am at gatherings.

    • When I first started to attend networking functions I was a brand new political assistant. Unlike many of my colleagues, I did not grow up in a politically active family. They followed a particular party and they voted, but that was it. So when I first attended one of the receptions I was nervous and resistant. To my surprise no one sat down.Tables and chairs would be set up around the room and people would mill in groups standing up. I don’t know why it struck me as so odd but I remember thinking, these people are so strange what can I possibly have in common with them? They don’t even know how to relax at a party. Of course that just made me even more reluctant to be there.

      Of course today the idea of organizing an event with chairs would strike me as pointless. It’s a small thing, but it really came down to thinking of business networking events as if they were a different culture, but seeing the similarities. It’s a party, but it’s got different rituals. I’m not going to socialize in quite the same way, but if I don’t look for the potential to have fun, I’d never go to them.

  • These are great tips. Being an introvert, I’m still trying to get comfortable with networking, but I’ve made considerable strides in the last few years. But I’ve learned that if you don’t get out there and network, then your missing out on loads of potential opportunities. I’m always amazed by people who know how to really work a room, never missing out on a chance to introduce themselves, and get their name and their brand out there….I always wished that I could be that bold….It’s a work in progress….lol…Great article.

    • Thank you. I have to admit when I’m out with someone who is an inherent networker, someone who does it because they love it, they are amazing to watch. Their genuine keenness to meet someone new seems to transfer to the people around them and then the introductions becomes smooth, natural. I try to keep that in mind when I’m at an event and it helps.

  • Although these are all good tips, i must admit – I hate such networking events… I love networking offline but not on such must-network-that’s-why-we-came type of events – I always find people to be too pretentious for my taste. Maybe I just haven’t been to good networking events or with the right crowd 😉

    I definitely prefer online networking – which is cool as I work online, exclusively and never ever meet my clients (unless I want to :-P)

    • Online definitely feels easier to do. You have time to think out your response and you don’t have to worry if you’re dressed properly.:)

      As to the face to face version, there are times when you meet people you don’t like and sometimes I think some basic training in good manners would be useful for some, but I’ve also had a lot of fun. In my work life I’ve had to go into all kinds of unfamiliar settings and while they all start off feeling weird, I never cease to be amazed at the ones that take me by surprise by being fun. The dinner for motorcycle enthusiasts and the hoedown in Prince George, Saskatchewan are two that come to mind. 🙂

  • You make some really excellent tips about networking. Listening is one of the most under-appreciated skills out there – one question, and you’re off to the races. Another great networking tool is a camera. Often I cover events for clients, and once I’ve taken someone’s picture, it’s amazing how quickly the conversation gets going.

    • Thanks Krystyna, I love the idea of taking pictures at an event. It gets people to smile and step closer to one another. As the photographer, it gets you to interact with the whole group.

  • becc03 says:
    June 24, 2013 @ 09:04 pm

    These are great tips that cross over into your personal social interactions as well. I try to stick by most of the things you suggested here in any given situation. The hardest one though at times is to be quiet and let the other person speak. When you work from home and don’t get to chance to mingle much, you just want to talk, talk, talk 🙂 I will keep practicing though and put these points up as a reminder before I venture out to my next function.

    • Thank you. I will admit that, that tip has resonance with me too! The sad part is, it’s precisely when someone is talking about something I find fascinating that I have to keep reminding myself to be quiet and listen. 🙂

  • Debra, these ideas are perfect. 5 & 6 particularly hit home. You can pick up so much valuable information by listening and letting others do the talking. I also like your suggestion to talk to the loner. It’s not only an easy thing to do, it’s a compassionate thing to do. Good karma!

    • I couldn’t agree more on the karma that comes from helping. Many years ago I would have been the one to stand on the sidelines at a networking event. Some kind souls helped me to integrate and I think its only fair to pay it forward.

  • It’s so important to network in person not only online. Many people forget about these types of things because we living in the facebook world.

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