Whether you are at a large networking event or a smaller gathering, your goal includes getting to meet people, to make meaningful connections, and even to subtly pre-qualify some of them. Although you will probably want to avoid looking like a butterfly flitting around the room and speaking with everyone, you also need to make the most of your time and engage in at least a couple of deeper conversations.
If you approach a small group of people speaking together, and this is a networking event, you can expect that they will welcome you and encourage you to introduce yourself. However, they don’t always know how to facilitate networking either! You can join in or start a conversation by applying the following steps:
Approach a group, smile, but don’t actually interrupt the conversation going on.
Listen to get the gist of the conversation.
If there is no conversation and people are standing awkwardly, start something!
When the time is right, contribute. Share an anecdote or engaging, related story.
Once you have met everyone and have had a chance to contribute, simply excuse yourself and move on to another group or individual who appears receptive (as long as it is not impolite).
Approaching a small group in a lunch room or restaurant can be done in a similar, although less formal kind of way. Once you’ve established a connection, it can be easy for the conversation to drop off, especially if you and the person you just met aren’t really clear on what your purpose is or what you have to offer. This is not the situation you want to find yourself in at a networking opportunity! After you make your introduction, work in a question to stimulate conversation. If you are not yet good at this, do some practicing and create a handy list of questions you can memorize and then deliver without sounding forced. Good questions could include:
“What brings you to this event/conference/meeting today?”
“What are you looking forward to the most from this event today?”
“How would you like to change/grow…?”
"If money was not an object, what you change about your business immediately?"
“Have you met ____ yet? Since he is on your list and I have known him a long time, I can introduce you if you like.”
(There are all kinds of options here to encourage conversation.)
If you are not accustomed to meeting new people, do not feel particularly comfortable with networking, or are terrified of the thought of implementing any of these things, it’s okay – lots of people feel that way! Try to use some stress reduction techniques to work through any anxiety before, during, and after the event. Also, arrange to get plenty of practice by going to lots of networking opportunities, joining a local Toastmasters group, and practicing your approach with people you are comfortable being around.
About the Author
Shakira M. Brown is an award-winning Professional Branding & Business Communication Speaker (https://shakirabrown.com) and former network television broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of SMB Strategic Media LLC (www.pradviser.net), a firm that helps businesses get to the heart of why the customers/clients buy their goods and service helping them clarify their message via strategic brand messaging. Shakira is also the lead marketing consultant for America’s Small Business Development Center at The College of New Jersey. She has won over 13 industry awards in various disciplines for her work. Shakira frequently shares her expertise at national conferences and corporate workshops as well as with the media such as American Express Open, Crain’s Chicago, PR Week, Brand Week, Smart Money and she is also a contributing writer for Black Enterprise.com.