TIPSY TUESDAY | 5 Tips on Navigating a Networking Event
If you’re a business owner, or aspiring business owner, networking is a staple in your entrepreneurial tool-kit. Recently, TC from Branch and Leaf wrote a terrific blog post on why networking events are so valuable for business owners. (You can read the benefits of networking for your business here). If your initial thought is how much you dread the discomfort that comes with networking, don’t worry, you’re not alone! The idea of walking into a room filled with strangers and having to talk about yourself is certainly daunting, even to experienced networkers.
In both my personal and professional life, I’ve had to do my fair share of networking. On the personal side, I’ve moved to 2 new cities by myself and I’ve had to throw myself into unfamiliar social environments to meet new people, create connections and ultimately build relationships. On the professional side, I’ve worked the world of outreach for years, and whether it was through my past corporate jobs or my current business, I’ve found myself in many events having to talk to strangers with the same intention: to meet people, create connection, and to build relationships.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years of awkwardly putting myself out there.
Get ready to take note!
Before you even get to the event, get yourself in the right mindset. This is a networking event; its sole purpose is to create an environment for people to come together to meet, mingle, share and connect. This means that everyone in the room is looking to do the same thing you are: connect with someone else in the room! It’s also likely that most people in the room are feeling just as uncomfortable as you are. Remembering that other event attendees are in the same boat as you can relieve some of the pressure, and help you feel less awkward and alone.
Your initial response might be something like, “yeah, right! I don’t want to be the first one there.” But, in fact, arriving early gives you an advantage. You can get a feel for the space and environment, chat with the event organizers as a warm up, grab yourself a cocktail or a coffee and settle in. Trust me, it feels far more comfortable to start conversing with others as they walk in, rather than entering a room filled with ongoing conversations and trying to insert yourself.
They say preparation is the key to success, and networking is no different. So, for your next event, try researching a few conversation starters so you feel prepared in how you will approach anyone you come across at the event. Here are a couple of classics to get you started:
Ask if you can join a conversation – Whether I see someone standing alone or I’m looking to join a group, I always like to lead with “do you mind if I join you?” it’s a gentle way of indicating that I’m looking to connect with someone (especially if I’m joining a group conversation) and people are always welcoming. Alternatively, if you find yourself in a group conversation and you see someone standing by themselves or walking around alone, go and ask them to join your group or conversation. We’re all in this together!
Comment on the environment – talk about how beautiful the space is, or how you feel about the food or drinks, or what you like/dislike about about networking events. This is an easy conversation starter because it’s one thing you are sure to both have in common in that moment.
Be curious about the other person – ask open ended questions about their business or hobbies. Do they enjoy the field they are in? What made them start their business? How do they enjoy spending their time outside of work/business?
Ask them why they’re attending the event – How did they hear about it? What are they hoping to gain? Do they go to other networking events? This helps you connect by talking about the community you are both a part of. You might even gain a new networking wingman!
Bring a Wingman
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare, you still might not be able to shake that awkward feeling of entering a room alone. My suggestion is to bring a networking wingman, that friend who is looking to network and build connections in the community just as much as you are, and try approaching people together. It can feel far less intimidating when you have someone you know and trust by your side. Just try not to get too caught up in conversation with each other. Remember that your intention is to connect with others in the community!
At the end of the day, remember why you decided to attend the event; to meet, connect, learn and grow. It’s totally normal to feel awkward and uncomfortable, but try to take some pressure off and just enjoy yourself and the process!