Attending a professional networking event can be like going to a party at a stranger’s house. You scan the crowd, searching for friendly faces, hoping you know at least one other person. When you realize you have to work the event solo, you suddenly feel shy and jittery — especially if working the room doesn’t come naturally to you.
Take a deep breath and dry those sweaty palms. First, remember that other professionals at the event are feeling exactly the way you are. Then, develop an action plan. Focusing on specific goals will help you to check your nervousness at the door.
Here are some strategies to help you navigate your next professional networking event successfully:
Before the event, make a list of targets — the people you know you want to meet. Most conferences and other meet-and-greet events use the Web or social media to publish a list of attendees, which can be helpful in your preparation. Many events also use hashtags on Twitter so attendees can connect before and during the event.
Organize some brief notes on what you know about a target contact that could be relevant to your discussion with that person. For example, perhaps you read a person’s blog or viewed his or her webinar. This type of information gives you an advantage not only because you can break the ice with a new contact more easily but also because the person will realize you sincerely want to meet.
Turn your list of targets into an “event card” — a simple list in a notebook or on your smartphone — that you can use to make notes about the people you meet and what you discuss. Don’t take notes during a conversation, though. The other person may feel uncomfortable if he or she feels like you’re conducting an interview.
Help Contacts Connect With You
You need to show your targets why they should know you. This means you should rehearse your introductions and tailor them for each key person. For instance:
- Example 1: “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m an accountant with XYZ firm. Our firm does some work for your company. I’ve seen you copied on some of our correspondence, and I wanted to introduce myself since we’ve never actually met in person.
- Example 2: “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m an accountant at XYZ firm. I believe you know my manager, Sue Smith. I noticed you two are connected on LinkedIn. How do you know Sue?”
- Example 3: “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m an accountant at XYZ firm. I saw you speak at last year’s annual conference. I really enjoyed your presentation. Will you be speaking at the next event?”
Remember that there’s a fine line between coming across as “all business” and being seen as a real, approachable human being. While it’s important to be prepared when you meet someone new who could be important to you professionally, don’t over-rehearse. You want conversations to flow naturally following your introduction. Just smile, be casual and talk to that person as you would if you were building a relationship with a new friend.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Follow Up
A day or two after the networking event, review your event card and the business cards you collected, and begin your follow-up. A brief email to say hello and remind a new contact about the conversation you had or a request to connect via LinkedIn should suffice. Don’t call a contact unless you were encouraged to do so, or you both hit it off so well you know a phone call would be welcome.
If you don’t hear back from a contact after two attempts, more than likely that person is not interested in keeping in touch. Don’t take it personally. Not every connection you make is going to lead to a meaningful business connection.
Focus your energy instead on those relationships you sense are going to be the most fruitful. If you approached the event strategically, you’ll no doubt have more than enough interesting new contacts to add to your professional network.
Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.