Someone recently asked me, “What’s the difference between a successful networking event and an unsuccessful one?”
My answer is not about the event itself. I believe it all depends upon me, and how I approach it. I know this may not be an answer you would expect to hear. To me, it’s more about what I bring into the event that matters, not who is at the event or how many people are there. Most often, I go into events purposefully, with an intention to come away with meaningful contacts. Usually, that means engaging as fully as I can, being curious about new people I meet, and finding one or two people who may need the services I offer.
When I first started networking, I wasn’t very purposeful and was often disappointed in how I spent my time there. But after gaining plenty of experience over the years, the way I network now is fairly simple: It’s all about meeting others and connecting with them in a meaningful way. This will look different at different events, so there is no magic formula. I do know that my attitude going in determines what I get out of it.
I also learned that I need to prepare. So I started asking myself a few questions beforehand: Why am I going to this event? Who is putting on the event? How can I make this function time well spent?
I recently went to a networking breakfast with a few well-defined intentions: I wanted to learn what the speakers had to say, I wanted to come away with a few good leads, and I wanted to meet as many people as I could—which meant I needed to engage a lot and not wait for others to walk up to me.
I decided how I wanted to be and what my purpose was in being there, which set the tone for the entire event. Then I could truly be myself without overthinking things, as we’re all prone to do when we meet new people. Thinking about purpose helps me maximize my time spent. And I have more fun.
When I left the event, all three were checked off my list, and I credit a little mental preparation on the walk over for making it such a success. It’s mind boggling the difference a little prep can do, and it doesn’t have to take a long time.
What’s your purpose for attending your networking events? Here are a few items to consider:
- Being professional doesn’t mean being impersonal. Some people confuse being professional with being subdued. Don’t be afraid to crack a joke or share personal experiences. Real conversations and a fun attitude can go a long way in making you stand out. The things you care about are the most interesting things about you, so share them! You’ll never know who has the same interests.
- Look for their enthusiasm. Now that you’ve shared a little about your personal interests, try to find a topic the person you’re speaking with is enthusiastic about. This could be something personal or more business related, but whatever it is, it’s a great way to encourage them to open up.
- Are you talking to fill space? Have you ever seen someone desperate to escape a stalled conversation? Don’t be the person rambling on like words are going out of style. You only have so many opportunities to make real connections at a networking event, and you should be able to find out if you have something in common or how you can help each other in less than a minute. In fact, people decide on your trust worthiness in a tenth of a second, according to Princeton researchers. So don’t feel like you’ve got to spend 15 minutes selling yourself to a single lead. Go mingle and have fun. As NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said, “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.”
- Recognize other groups, individuals. Even if it’s not your event, go ahead and be a host. If you’re standing in a group discussion and you notice someone on the fringe of the conversation, try to include them. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be acting like not only a networking pro, but a human being. Plus, doesn’t it feel good to include an outlier in the conversation? So many of us have been there, trying to break in, but too polite to jump in.
- Let your listening skills do the talking. It’s easy to talk about yourself, because that’s what we all know best. But when you’re trying to make connections at an event, try to hold off on selling yourself. By listening to other people and getting a feel for what they care about, you’ll better understand them and have an easier time offering value.