5 Ways to Navigate Networking Events
We have all been told to “network, network, network.” By the time we reach the start of our career, those words are so played out – yet, vague. What exactly does it mean to “network?” How do you effectively grow your “network?”
Long gone are the days when “networking” simply meant standing in a room full of strangers, wearing a stuffy suit, clad with glasses and an embarrassing name tag, awkwardly reaching out for handshakes while holding a glass of water (or wine).
I had an “ah-ha” moment when I saw the end result of networking – actually landing a job from someone I knew. And not just anyone, but one of my best friends from law school.
Networking means leveraging your already-existing connections to collaborate on projects, assist with your job search, organise events, land clients, exchange ideas, or just hang out.
Yes, I said hang out. Often, your most useful network is your tribe – the people you shared classes with in college, your friends from law school, your teammates from sports, the girls you danced with in high school, or your friend’s friend that works in an industry you want exposure to.
Your network can even include the hot mess at the party, who you would never imagine has to go to their 9-5 job on Monday (and is actually quite important there). Not saying that the last person is ideal, but you get the point.
Keep your eyes and ears open, at all times, because you NEVER know who could be in your “network.”
No. 1 Always, Always Approach People
It is so easy to go to events, whether formal “networking” events or social gatherings, and just wait for everyone else to approach you – and then, leave wondering why no one did (except for the most awkward person in the room). Do not be that awkward person.
It’s okay to be shy, but do not let that hold you back! You came to this event for a reason, so make the most of it.
If no one is approaching you, then approach someone else who looks as uncomfortable as you. I promise they will not judge you. Everyone is at the event to try and meet people.
No.2 Never, Ever, Look Unapproachable
Similar to point #1 above, you are at this event (regardless of what type of event it is) to meet people. If you want to be approached, look approachable.
This does not mean you have to look pretty, social, put-together, or like the most fun person in the room. It simply means that you should not look unapproachable. In other words, don’t sit in the corner of the room, sulking, with your arms crossed.
Or, in the alternative, don’t show up with your BFF and just talk to her the entire time, judging everyone else and giving people the side-eye. Your friends can help you or they can hurt you at these events.
It’s nice to have a familiar face in these situations, but it’s also important to give each other space so that you can both accomplish what you came to do. If your friend is looking for the same thing, great! Together, go approach people. Because it is quite intimidating for others to approach a group.
No. 3 Don’t Think, Just Do
Let’s say you are at one of these “formal” networking events – you are at a function with a speaker, and you totally admire that speaker’s work. Approach them after their talk! They will rarely get a chance to approach someone in the audience. So it’s likely you will have to be the one to approach them.
Don’t think too hard about it – just do it. Count to 5, and then before your brain can talk you out of it, walk up to them and introduce yourself.
Tell them why you are here. For instance, “Hi X! I’m Nina. Thank you so much for your insight on Y. I find it particularly useful, because I, like you, am in the Z industry. Do you have a card so that we can keep in touch?” Even if you have nothing insightful to say, show your face and ask for a card in case you later want to e-mail them.
No.4 Arrive Early, Stay Late.
Whenever I do go to organised networking events (whether they are speaking events, wellness industry get-togethers, legal education courses, etc.), I make sure to arrive early.
Most people will talk to the speakers and organisers after the event, but not many people know who they are before the event. I’ve made some of the best connections in the elevator on the way to the event space, during the event set-up, and waiting on line for food or drink.
In the alternative, if you stay late, stay really late. I always find you make a good impression and stand out if you are the last one in the room. Plus, they will give you more attention because there is no one else in line after you. I’ve talked with someone until the very last minute her parking meter was paid – and then she invited me to continue the conversation while walking to refill her meter.
You never know where the conversation will carry you until you speak up.
No. 5 Never Underestimate Anyone. Ever.
Circling back to the beginning of this article, let’s say you are not into the whole formal “networking” thing. Do not assume this means you are not networking! You are networking every single time you put yourself out there, whether it is online, at the store, at a friend’s event, at school, or on the train.
You NEVER know when something will manifest. You MUST always keep your eyes, ears, and mind open for opportunities. Maybe the stranger on the plane sitting next to you will be best friends with the managing partner at the big law firm you interviewed at? (This happened to an attorney I know, who then got that job).
Maybe that hot mess at the party is actually quite influential, and can get you a meeting with your dream client because it is his best friend from high school? (Some of the most “successful” people I have met are big partiers.) Maybe your best friend from college will be in a position to bring you into her business when the timing is right?
Never burn your bridges, and always be open to meeting others. Hard work will get you so far, but recognising opportunities and making the connections in your head – and with others – will get you the rest of the way.
By Nina Marinaro, Esq. Founder @ ZENprep
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