Steps to Networking – Step 54: Anatomy of a networking event

Written By Rick Frishman Published April 12th, 2010

STEP 54: Anatomy of a networking event

When you go to a networking event, your networking opportunities begin as soon as you get out of the car, the subway or off the bus. Start conversations with people who enter the building with you, talk to those who are searching for directions or who press the same elevator button. Being pleasant, warm and friendly never hurts; it doesn’t cost a thing, but it can produce huge returns.

When you get to the event, head straight for the reception table. Sign in, get your nametag and whatever materials are being distributed. If there is a line or people gathered by the reception table, begin networking by introducing yourself to those nearby. Start a conversation by finding out who they are and telling them how much you’re looking forward to the event. After you’ve made your first contact, it’s usually easier to meet others.

Don’t ignore reception desk workers. Often, they are volunteers or key people in the host organization. They may even be the event organizers or hosts. Talking with reception desk workers is networking; it’s extending you contact base and building relationships. So say hello and thank them because they are frequently ignored or treated indifferently. They will appreciate and remember your kindness.

Reception desk workers frequently assist with various chores during the event and can help you throughout the event. They often act as official greeters for the host organizations and part of that job may be to make introductions. Don’t be afraid to ask greeters or desk workers for help or to introduce you to key people.

Arrive early

Networking expert Dave Sherman believes that over 90 percent of those who attend networking events feel uncomfortable to some extent. To overcome your discomfort, he recommends that you arrive at networking events 15 minutes early. “I know, I know.” Sherman states, “Only geeks show up early. Not true! I prefer to believe the adage that ‘The early bird gets the worm.’”

By arriving early, you have the opportunity the chance to meet the people who put on the event before they’re inundated with other guests and duties. Usually, they are the movers and shakers of the sponsor organization and are the best folks to connect with, especially if you’re new to the organization.

NETWORKING NUGGET

Event organizers know who’s who at their events. They also know the movers and shakers as well as the hangers on, who should be avoided. When Hellen Davis, CEO of Indaba Training Systems, Inc., arrives at an event, she finds the promoters or hosts of the event to introduce herself. After explaining who she is, she asks, “If you were me, who would you want to meet?” When they name names, Davis asks them to introduce her. “It’s remarkable,” she explained, “They (organizers and/or promoters) can interrupt any one at any time and when they interrupt conversations to introduce me, it elevates my status and make me seem more important.”

Another reason to show up early is because it’s easier to start networking with the 5-10 people who are already present than with the 50-100 who will soon arrive. It’s hard to walk into a room filled with people and to jump right into your networking mode. When fewer attendees are on hand, you can warm up slowly. Once you break the ice and start talking, it becomes easier and more comfortable to chat with others. People you approach often appreciate your interest in them and in turn will become more comfortable and forthcoming with you.

If your nametag isn’t preprinted, sign it legibly and print your name in large letters that everyone can read. Some attendees won’t be wearing their glasses so help them to identify you by writing your name clearly. Wear it where it can be easily seen.

At events sponsored by Executive Moms, a New York City organization for women who balance their careers as business executives with being mothers, attendees wear two nametags. One nametag has the woman’s name and where she resides while the other lists the names and ages of her children. The two nametags increase the opportunities for the women at the events to talk, interact and build relationships, according to Marisa Thalberg, Executive Mom’s Founder and President.

After putting on their nametags, some people like to step to the side to survey the room before they venture further. Locate the food area because it’s an excellent place to socialize. Sooner or later, everyone at events wanders over to the food area where the atmosphere is more relaxed. As you walk toward the food area, look for opportunities to network.

People like to hang around food areas. It gives them a break. Around food, most people tend to be more open and at ease. Just the mere presence of food loosens them up. Since the atmosphere around the food isn’t as charged, it’s easier to strike up conversations with openings such as, “Isn’t the Danish great?” “Oh, those egg rolls look good,” or “Oh well, I know I shouldn’t . . . but.”

Rosters

If the sponsor provides a roster of attendees, check the names listed to identify who you would like to meet and who you know. Most rosters are handed out when you sign in, so study them as soon as you get the chance. If you can, obtain and read the roster in advance.

Some rosters provide information about the attendees and it’s surprising how much of it will come to mind when you meet that person face-to-face. When you go to trade shows and large conferences, get a list of attendees and exhibitors before hand and the schedule of when you can attend the exhibits.

Scan the main areas to see where everyone congregates. Discover whether they are moving around or standing in groups and where the energy is. If people all gather at a certain place, try to discover what is going on. Ask someone, “Why is everyone standing over there?” It’s good way to start a conversation.

Move in the direction of the people and the energy. If you see someone alone, introduce yourself and begin to network.

Jill Lublin advises people to “act like a butterfly.” When you meet friends at events, it is not the appropriate time to involve yourselves in prolonged discussions that go into the intimate details of their lives. It’s the time to network, to get down to business. When Jill sees someone she knows at a networking event, she simply says hello and asks how he/she is without getting into a deep conversation. Then she moves on. With people she doesn’t know, Jill invests more time.

Jill believes that networking events are primarily to meet new people. Although she loves the social aspects of seeing old friends, Jill understands that the purpose of networking events is to make new contacts.

If Jill knows three people in a group of three, she will say hello to the two she knows and introduce herself to the person she doesn’t know. At networking events, Jill always speaks and introduces herself first because so may attendees are uncomfortable introducing themselves, some even freeze up.

Greet and be cordial to the people you know, but concentrate on meeting new people. If you want to make new contacts, don’t sit or hang out with friends or business associates, but seek out new faces and get to meet them.

Approaching others

Approach people when your eyes meet or they smile at you and hold their smile. Try to connect with people who communicate with vibrancy and enthusiasm and seem interested and excited. Look for energy and vitality.

Before approaching others, look for body language that reveals if they are open to talking or not interested. Those with their arms crossed over their torso, who are unsmiling, looking around nervously or who step back when you approach are not open. People who are not into talking with you won’t acknowledge you or will acknowledge you briefly, unsmilingly and then quickly turn or step away. Frequently, they’ll give you a quick, sharp nod. They’re sending out “Do not approach” signals. Do what they ask, leave them alone! If they don’t want to talk, simply smile pleasantly and move on.

People who are open to talking to you will usually smile, nod, make an opening comment or introduce themselves. Look at their eyes, if they hold your gaze or don’t seem to look straight through you, continue your approach. Open people hug, laugh, smile, look people straight in the eyes and lean forward toward the person they’re talking with.

Jill likes to approach people when they’re standing alone because it usually means that they don’t know what to do next. Although she doesn’t spend a lot of time with them, she tries to make them comfortable. Jill will also escort them over to groups that she feels she can enter and be a part of.

When people are in a group, read the looks and gestures of the group members to determine if you’re welcome. If members of a group acknowledge you or smile or nod to you, smile or nod back. Introduce yourself only if it doesn’t interrupt the conversation and even then, be brief. Give your sound bite. If you feel that you’re not welcome in their conversation, simply smile and slip away.

When you approach a group that is involved in conversation:

• Remain silent until you can figure out what they are discussing
• Listen and remain silent until you have something that is both relevant and of value to add, otherwise don’t speak
• Irrelevant and/or valueless comments are rude interruptions that most people resent.

Often, it pays to position yourself to the side of a group where you can eavesdrop on their conversation. After listening for a while, you may find that you’re not interested in talking with them. In addition, you could learn something that would ease your entry into the group or that would smooth your approach when you subsequently come across group members during the event.

When someone you would like to meet is surrounded and it’s hard to approach, don’t be intimidated. Be patient and wait your turn because most people are usually approachable, you just may have to wait.

Speakers at events can be hard to reach. If, after patiently waiting, you still have not gotten your chance, see if the speakers have “guards” or people escorting them. If so, tell their escorts, “I’d love to speak with Jane, when is the best time to contact her?” Sometimes the escorts will tell you, “Just wait here,” and will stand with you in such a way that the speaker will notice and give you your chance.

Speakers and celebrities are always haunted by attendees insist on asking them a million questions and refusing to relinquish the floor. If you wait patiently, speaker will frequently notice and cut short the hanger on.

Jill doesn’t believe in preplanning opening gambits because she considers them insincere and transparent. “People sense and resent insincerity, they know its manipulative and it turns them off.” Instead, Jill gives her sound bite, relies on her instincts and opens by complimenting a pretty outfit (only when she means it) or commenting on something she observed. The only thing Jill preplans, she stresses, is what she says about her business. Nothing else is planned.

NETWORKING NUGGET

When Jill attends networking events, she wears outfits with two side pockets. In her right pocket, she keeps her business cards, which she liberally hands out. In her left pocket, she puts the business cards she receives from others. On the rare occasion when she wears an outfit that doesn’t have two side pockets, she carries a compartmentalized holder that has separate sections for her book, business cards, postcards, marketing materials and other people’s cards.

When Jill receives other people’s business cards, she writes notes on their cards before putting them in her pocket or holder, even if they are still present. Jill feels that most people are flattered that she is interested and organized enough to note information about them on the back of their card. However, if you feel uncomfortable, say something like, “Let me write this down so I won’t forget.”

• When you meet people try hard to remember their names. To improve your ability to remember names, see Chapter 14, Special Tactics, Remembering names. Repeat contacts’ names: find ways to work them in to conversations and call them by name when you speak and subsequently see them.

• Look for opportunities to give genuine compliments. Compliments are great icebreakers, especially those that are astute. However, don’t give compliments when you don’t mean them or the word will soon circulate and your believability quotient will crash. Tell contacts when you enjoyed what they said, agreed with they wrote, admired what they did or even liked what they wore.

If you consistently remember people’s names and give sincere compliments, they will warm to you and networking will become easier and more productive.

• Circulate and look for opportunities to meet people who you don’t know. Networking events present opportunities to make new contacts so don’t cling to your friends or those with whom you work. Move around and make new contacts that could grow into meaningful relationship.

Leaving a group

People who enter a group don’t have to stay in the conversation. You can excuse yourself at any time, but prepare an exit strategy. Before the event, think of a few basic lines that will let you politely slip out of a conversation without appearing to be rude. For example, you smile and simply say, “I need to get a drink,” “I need to say hello to someone” or “Oh, I need to coordinate my ride home” and then walk away. And, no matter how badly you want to leave the group, never be discourteous or overly abrupt.

Unlike most people in the world, we Americans aren’t taught to separate social and business situations. As a result, in the US, business talk is always considered appropriate, which in certain situations can cause problems. For example, in social situations, it’s polite to remain in conversations that no longer involve you and leaving the conversation could be considered rude. On the other hand, in business situations, staying in conversations that no longer involve you is rude.

At networking events, when a new person enters the conversation and the subject changes so that it no longer concerns or is about you, move on. By remaining in the conversation, you can dampen the dynamic, sap the energy and inhibit the creation of new and meaningful dialogs. At that point, when it no longer involves you, politely say goodbye and leave. If you want to make a specific plan, say, “It’s been great talking to you, should I call you next week, what day would be good?” And then leave. If you don’t want any further contact, say “It was nice seeing you, I’ll look forward to seeing you at the next event.”

Many people find networking events uncomfortable and don’t know how to act. Try to be kind, understanding and compassionate, but remember your purpose. Excusing yourself from unproductive conversations may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. At networking events, you’re there for business, not to socialize or to nurse uncomfortable people.

(Excerpted from NETWORKING MAGIC: Making Connections That Will Change Your Life By Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin With Mark Steisel)


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