How to Have a Great Experience at a Networking Event
If you’re like most people, the thought of attending a big networking event is less than appealing.
There’s the risk of getting stuck with boring people and feeling like it was all a giant waste of your time. At the other end of the spectrum is the fear that others may judge you as boring or a waste of time.
When it’s time to show up, most of us feel lucky to come out of the experience muddling through somewhere in the middle.
What I’ve found over the years is that it’s all about mindset.
When I go in with dread, the event usually lives up (or do I mean down?) to my negative expectations. It’s only when I remember to put on my positive hat that things have a better chance of going well.
This is exactly what happened at a recent event I attended in London where I took a fresh approach and had a great experience. Better yet, it’s one I know I can replicate at each event I attend from now on.
I’m going to share what I did with you so you, too, can enjoy every networking event you go to.
10 things I did that made networking a success
1. Set an intention
Instead of going in with a fatalistic attitude of “I’ll go and see what happens” or “I’ll meet two people and then I’m out”, I set an intention for the event.
I had just one main purpose, which was to meet the founder of the hosting organization. Beyond that, I was just going to be kind to everyone else and spread positivity.
2. Did research
Based on my intention, I did 5-10 minutes of Googling on the host organization and its founder. If I had planned ahead, I could have even asked a team member to do this and brief me.
3. Warmed up
I like talking to someone even before I get into the room, just to get into the swing of things. Even if it’s a stranger. It’s like warming up before a run.
When I arrived in the lobby, another guest also got into the elevator. When I realized the event was just two floors up, I remarked that I should have walked to get in more steps (yes, I’ve got a FitBit). The other guest turned out to be a fitness buff, too, and we ended up chatting about resting heart rates and exchanged advice on career and business topics too. So, a good start.
4. Didn’t force it
When I spotted the founder speaking with several others, I walked over slowly to see if I could join the circle. She was so intent that she didn’t notice me on the periphery, so I decided to bide my time rather than force my way in.
Because of this decision, I noticed someone who was just turning away from the group and ended up chatting with them and learning about the movie business instead.
It’s so much easier to go with the flow, and I knew I would have more opportunities later.
5. Chose my seat first
I usually wait for everyone else to start going in to see who I want to sit next to.
But this time, I decided to be one of the first ones to enter the auditorium and display confidence. I sat in the second row on the aisle, guessing that the speakers would want to sit in the front row.
6. Be generous with everyone
As people sat down around me, I said hello and we each introduced ourselves. Here’s where being an attentive listener and having an interesting and succinct answer to “what do you do?” really pays off. We ended up having great conversations.
And as luck would have it, one of the people sitting near me turned out to be the founder’s husband, which would be a plus later.
7. Asked a question
A speaker’s nightmare is to have no questions. That’s why you give a great gift each time you put your hand up as an audience member. It’s an indication of interest in the speaker’s topic and a sign that they kept at least some people awake!
So, when it came time for the Q&A session, I put my hand up and asked a question. This allowed me to meet the speaker during the drinks after the formal part of the event, and uncover a common interest to follow up on.
8. Introduced myself
Toward the end of the evening, I was able to catch the founder who was standing with her husband. I didn’t even need to introduce myself as he did it for me.
By the way, she turned out to be every bit as impressive as I expected!
9. Followed up
The best time to follow up with people is during the 24 hours after you’ve met them.
I usually blow this golden opportunity because I think I’m “too busy” during those 24 hours so I put it off. Then weeks go by and it feels like it’s “too late”. In the end, it’s as though I never even went to the event.
This time I started a new habit by connecting with the people I’m interested in that very evening – some by email, one on Twitter, and others through LinkedIn. Choose whatever mode they prefer.
10. Positive reinforcement
With a successful venture under my belt, I wanted to make sure I made it easier for me to do it again next time an interesting networking event comes up.
That’s where the positive reinforcement comes in. What I’ve learned from my daughter is to compliment yourself when you do something positive. So I gave myself an “I am awesome!” to celebrate the win.
When you’re heading out to your next networking event, remember to set an intention and let the rest of the steps flow from there.
I hope this recent example can help you make your next networking event a win for you.
In the meantime, I’d love to know:
What do you do to make networking easy and productive?
Leave a comment below to let me know.
Thank you May! These are great suggestions. A couple that I also can add are to ask interesting questions and look for ways to help others. What I mean by ask interesting questions is to move the conversation beyond the weather or what you do. You can ask what great things happened to someone that day or week, what fun things there are to do in the area, etc. This allows for outside points of connection and helps the conversation flow further. The second thing I do is listen for ways to help others based on the conversation. Can I make an introduction, connect them to a good book or article, talk through an idea they want to learn more about, etc. By being other focused and really listening, I can help others who then are more likely to remember me the next time we meet. If you say you will send something to them, that also gives you an excuse for the 24 hour follow up you recommend.
Thank you again.
Thank you for these great ideas, Sarah! I agree with you. I think the kinds of questions you ask – and specifically, going beyond the usual “safe but boring” topics – are what determines the quality of the conversation. And that, in turn, helps you build relationships.
And finding a way to help others is always a great way forward. I love your point about being “other-focused”.
Excellent!!! Your suggestions are fantastic! And the suggestions Sarah made above are also very helpful.
Thank you very much for all the information you’ve shared!
You’re welcome, Ann – and I agree Sarah makes helpful suggestions.
great video and advice. One thing for sure May is that you are AWESOME!
Keep up the great work and always appreciated.