I sometimes think I might just be an extroverted introvert – I absolutely love meeting new people, networking, and connecting others, but sometimes I get nervous striking up the first conversation in a large room of unknown people. Since I’ve been in a variety of positions throughout my career that have required extensive conference-going and community event-attending, I feel like I’ve been able to pick up a few tips and tricks from the networking veterans to help me work the room.
Here are the top three tips I’ve received for working the room at networking events!
1. Have a Business Wing(wo)man
Bring a friend! Knowing you have a “backup” will instantly make you more comfortable. You can always hop into their conversations if you suddenly feel lost – not only can you tell your new connection about how awesome your friend is, but you’ve just met someone knew as well!
I was once at a women in sports conference in New York, and I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated. I went with a few senior executives from my company who seemed to know every single one of the other 500+ women in attendance. My mentor suggested that I ask one of the women if I could tag along for the first half of the reception so I could get to know people; not only did this make me feel more comfortable that I wouldn’t end up being the lone wallflower, but I was excited about getting introductions to some of the top minds in the industry! Going into the event with my mind more at ease, I was able to meet some new people, and even realized that I knew quite a few other women myself! Sometimes it just takes a buddy to boost your confidence.
2. Watch Your Buzz
While it may seem like having a drink at a networking event could ease your tongue a bit, you still want to make sure that you are in control and remain professional at all times. Free alcohol does not mean all-you-can-drink alcohol!
One of my colleagues told me a story about an event she was at in which one of her fellow attendees may have had a taaaad too much to drink. Mid-conversation, the woman actually reached UP her skirt, adjusted something, and proceeded to chit-chat away like nothing had happened. She was also swearing like a sailor and if I recall correctly may have even taken off her shoes. I don’t know about you, but I 100% do not want to be the person at the professional party with her hand up her skirt.
3. Be Yourself
Yes, it is cliche! But just be the best business version of yourself possible. This will allow you to make the most genuine connections – you want to get to know people who mesh with your style as these are the people who are going to “get” you and provide the best opportunities, mentorship, and even friendship.
If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you’ll know that there are always those people who are incredibly “networky” – immediately giving you their elevator pitch/resume recitation, trying to figure out if you’re a C-level executive, passing out business cards left and right without any real connection. While it might seem like these people know everyone, I always prefer quality over quantity. Being yourself and holding genuine conversations with the people you chat with will not only make a better, longer-lasting impression, but will also give you a chance to do what networking is supposed to do – actually learn about the other person! By being you, you are opening up yourself to the possibility of fostering genuine relationships that are more likely to yield positive outcomes down the road.