Networking is an important part of business success, whether you’re an entrepreneur or working your way up the corporate ladder. For those uncomfortable in social situations or who just do not like the idea of approaching strangers to make chit-chat, networking events can be a dreaded time on the calendar. People who have been there and learned the tools of the trade offer tips on how to not only make it through the night, but make it a successful one.
Writing in Inc. last week, Andrew Griffiths laid out some clever tips, such as “hang out near the food.” People are more genial around food, and if you have a napkin to spare, it can serve as an icebreaker. Although food can ease you into a conversation, Griffiths cautions against the temptation of alcohol. People who overindulge with drink damage their credibility.
Griffiths says to approach groups already in conversation rather than individuals, where it can be easier to blend in. Branching out and not hiding with people you already know is important — otherwise, you won’t be networking. As a memory aid to help you remember people, use each individual’s name in conversation and note down his or her details — after you’ve stopped talking and walked away. To give them a way to remember you, wear something distinctive but still business-appropriate. A classy but boldly-colored tie, for example.
Presenting yourself positively is also key to make a strong impression. Griffiths says you should speak with enthusiasm about your work and smile, a tip also offered by Entrepreneur writer Colleen Debaise. A smile makes you more approachable and inviting. A passionate story about your work can make people remember you, and also get people interested in what you do. But don’t get so caught up talking about yourself that you forget to listen to the other person’s story.
Asking open-ended questions gives people the freedom to discuss themselves and their work. Debaise is a proponent of easy questions which simply serve to get the conversation started, such as “what brings you to this event?” Remember as well that the key part of any question is its answer, so listen when you get a response.
Debaise and Griffiths both recommend quick follow up, either the next day or within 48 hours. Adding the contact to LinkedIn is one option; attaching a note that references what was discussed during your conversation can twig the memory of your contact.