Whether you’re the outgoing type who’s not afraid to approach anyone or more timid and shy about speaking to people you don’t know, it’s important to set goals with each networking event you attend. By setting goals, you focus on making quality connections rather than coming home with a bunch of business cards for people you may not make contact with again.
Networking events vary in size, but regardless of whether it’s 100 attendees or 1,000 attendees, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to meet with everyone. Make the most use of your time at the event forming quality connections with these tips:
1. Set a realistic goal.
Go into the networking event with the mission to make three quality connections or another number that’s realistic for you. It can be with the people sitting next to you or around the same table as you. By zoning in on simply a few people, you can build quality conversations. You want to leave the meeting having established a relationship with individuals where having a follow-up meeting after the event is possible. They should remember you and the conversation held even after the networking event has passed.
2. Be approachable and don’t be afraid to make small talk.
Making contact happens in two ways – either you’re approached by someone or you approach someone yourself. Either way, be approachable by making eye contact and offering a smile – it’ll help the process. Be aware of your body language so it doesn’t come across as defensive, like when you have your arms crossed. Striking up a conversation isn’t hard, just find something in common and let that subject lead you into an introduction. For example, if you’re standing near the bar or food and there’s someone else there next to you, go ahead and make a comment like: “Oh that looks good! Have you tried it?” or “What’s that you have?” This small talk can then open up the window for you to say, “By the way, I’m [say your name].
3. Maintain rapport.
The trouble for many is figuring out how to keep the conversation going. Maintaining rapport with someone you’ve just met requires finding things you have in common and building on that. You can comment on how this is the first time you’re attending this event and find out if they’ve attended the event before or share thoughts on it. Building rapport also doesn’t have to focus on business. It can be more personable where you discuss a vacation you just came back from or a large story in the news. It can all help to keep the dialogue going as the two of you become more comfortable with one another and find common ground before directing the conversation to a specific angle to help in your job search.
4. Relax and let the conversation evolve naturally.
Yes, starting up a conversation with others you don’t know can be nerve-wracking, but remember that you’re there to take in information and everyone who is attending is also looking to meet new people, so relax and let conversations evolve naturally. When you’re relaxed, it makes it easy for others to also feel relaxed and want to talk to you. This is not a competition to see who comes out with the most contacts, but making good use of your time to gain information and make contacts who will remember you and want to continue conversation with you even outside of the event. Remember to exchange contact information so it’s possible!
Using your network on contacts during a job search has a high success rate compared to relying on just the job boards and recruiters, so continue to build up the network you have making quality connections at events using these tips!