While a nerve-wracking experience for some, networking at events can garner useful business connections, though you'll need to be equipped with more than a good handshake. I've gathered some pointers together based on experience (the good, the bad and the ugly) in the hope they will help prevent networking opportunities from feeling like the first day of school - again.
1. Do your research
Preparation for any event is vital; for me, going in with a purpose always provides that confidence boost. Check if you'd particularly like to meet anyone there and then find out what you can about them - not in a creepy way but in a 'Google their name' fashion. I usually take a quick look at a LinkedIn profile or company bio for something to steer a conversation towards.
2. Go at it alone
While walking into a room full of strangers seems daunting, sticking with your colleagues and friends won't do you any favours. If anxious about aimlessly wandering around the room, get in the drinks or food queue! You'll have somewhere to position yourself with a purpose, will get chatting to your fellow queuers, and there will probably be a tasty bite of food at the end of it.
3. Remember names
Get to know the person hosting the event and ask them to make introductions. And make sure you are willing to introduce others yourself, this will make you a valuable contact, with people more likely to return the favour.
To do this, you must remember names... we've all been there, zoning out for no particular reason. Try not to, but know there are ways around it; ask for an email address as usually it will have their name in it or remind them of your name at the end of the conversation and hope they return the favour. You can even get creative asking them the meaning behind their name or how it's spelt. Beware though, this might not work as well for a John as it would for a Xaviera.
4. Look for small groups
Look for small groups - two or three people are best - and perhaps make eye contact. With large groups it is difficult to make meaningful conversation and more importantly, an impression. It is also advisable not to befriend the intimidated person hiding in the corner of the room - they are likely to cling to you, making weaving gracefully through the room a challenge.
5. Topics of conversation
Be natural but prepare good conversation starters. Opening with your passion for pooktre art may not be the icebreaker you'd hoped! You don't have to wow anyone with a particularly witty comment but perhaps go for a topic that everyone loves, like food or travel; people will be more likely to have something to say in response. And be positive and complimentary. Complaining about the chicken satay won't win you any friends!
6. Card Exchange
Have your cards readily available but handing them out to everyone will make you look like a magician and you will end up making contacts that aren't useful to you. Less is always more. You don't want to meet the contact of your dreams and realise your cards have disappeared!
7. Showcase your talent and offer to help first!
Be clear as to how you might be able to help someone further their goals. They may be more inclined to help you in return. Asking for their time, in and of itself, is an imposition unless you can offer them some benefit upfront.
Every event is different and learning how to gauge a situation and read people's body language is crucial. The real key though: without a simple follow-up such as an email or a LinkedIn connection, working the room is not networking. You've done the groundwork so don't let them forget who you are.