In-person networking events come in many shapes and sizes. Some, like SXSW, are city-enveloping events that act like the annual Olympics for business people. Other networking events can be as simple as local business owners gathered at your town’s chamber of commerce. Big is not necessarily better than small. Any particular event's value depends on your intentions, mindset, and, of course, how you act...You get what you give.
Thinking about your personal presentation
Quick disclaimer for those who tend to get lost down rabbit-holes-of-research, which can become a form of avoidance. An adequate amount of prep, is good - it's enough. Then jump in. Experience - as in GOING to a networking event is worth 1,000 of these articles. That's the truth.
If you're in LA and looking for some events in January of next year: Networking in LA | January 2023 networking events
Things to consider at your next networking event:
- Calmness is a major virtue at networking events. Breathe. Observe and interact with the present moment.
- Trying to wear a pleasant demeanor. Smiling at people, even ones who aren’t smiling at you, is good. Be open.
- Having a short and sweet description of who you are and what you either do or are open to doing is useful.
- Having a genuine, human-interest in those you interact with at networking events is essential.
- Having a few easy questions prepared is useful. Nothing wrong with a few prepared questions so long as you don’t get glued to them and only use “in case of emergency.”
Be calm | Networking tip
When you enter the room, breathe, look around. Slowly move in any direction you’d like, there are no wrong choices as you're learning your surroundings. As long as you’re moving slowly, breathing, and wearing a pleasant demeanor you’re good - you have to do nothing else.
Once you’ve settled in somewhere, maybe after grabbing a beverage, maybe not, take as long as you need to get “centered.” No doubt, this is the single most important thing you can do. Once you are calm, once your mind is not racing, and you have control over yourself you can relax into your environment, and when you are relaxed is when you will act in the best possible way - because when you’re relaxed you are more yourself then any other time.
Right? Yes. And SO, when you’re thinking about how to act at a particular function or meeting or networking event, ask yourself instead what can I do to relax and get centered? Because if you do that, then “acting right” will naturally fall into place.
Wear a pleasant expression | Networking tip
Simple advice, sure. But also invaluable. Be pleasant. And if you're not feeling pleasant, do your best to find something, anything, around you that is nice to look at or in some way interesting. Focus on that object (or person or scene) and just breath. This is an easy way to clear your mind. And with a clear mind it's far easier to smile and at least to appear pleasant. The nice thing about wearing a pleasant expression is that it attracts pleasant interactions so, even if your initial expression was a "mask," by wearing a smile, you may end up actually wanting to smile - even if by accident.
Have a pitch | Networking tip
Recent college graduates struggle with creating their own personal pitch. In most cases, they are overthinking it. And the best personal pitches are the most honest and straightforward.
My name is ___I just graduated from ___.
No, you don’t have to expand or go any deeper. Just deliver the sentence pleasantly and openly and allow the person you're talking to "room" to jump in. Leaving things not VAUGE, but open is key because doing so provides those you're talking to with easy conversations INs. In this case, for instance, they might reply with something like, “what did you major in?” or, even better, “that’s a great school. Did you enjoy it?”
Note that it's usually better not to over-define or "pigeonhole" yourself.
Why? Because you don't know what you don't know. For instance, maybe you are talking to someone who you COULD have connected with in an unexpected way an a particular topic. But because you described yourself as being a "salesperson" open only to those linear opportunities, maybe the topic never comes up, and maybe by pigeonholing yourself you miss an opportunity. The key is to describe yourself clearly and simply without being vague but also while giving yourself wiggle room so you are not easily "boxed" into only X category.
Perfecting your pitch
Pitches - personal or otherwise - should first be clear. Clarity is not complexity, or vagueness, or even oversimplification - it’s using language to describe something in a way that conveys meaning. And that’s the best place to start when it comes to crafting your own personal pitch. Think about the meaning you want to convey first, THEN think about the words, then read the pitch out-loud and see how it SOUNDS, then make edits (they’ll likely be necessary after an out-loud reading, that’s fine - in fact, it’s good), then finalize, practice a few times, and you’re good. You’ve got your pitch down, now say it with your head up.
Also, keep in mind that if you have experience in a particular industry or a proven track-record you shouldn't get overly-technical with people. Again, keep things light and friendly at first and share the spotlight. Don't monopolize the conversation, especially in the beginning. If things develop in a way where you end up deep "in-the-weeds" on a particular topic - that can be a great sign. But keep watch on if the person you're talking to is loosing interest or making signs that indicate they'd like to move on. This is fine, you're at a networking event. Don't get offended. Instead, give the person you're talking to an easy OUT. Or, gracefully exit the conversation yourself.
For more seasoned professionals, you’ll likely already have a personal pitch nailed down - possibly with different versions for different situations. That’s great. If you’re happy with your pitch one way you can elevate it using technology is via having a digital business card. Quickly sharing your digital business card with a tap after you’ve met someone is a cool and casual way to help them remember you and to turn interesting connections into genuine collaborations.
Be genuinely interested in others | Networking tip
This one is as easy as it gets ON PAPER but can be difficult to practice. The important thing to remember is that you can’t expect others to be interested in your if you’re not interested in them. Also, remind yourself how EASY it is to tell when someone is “yes, yes, yessing” you - as in, when someone is not really interested in you or what you have it say. It’s usually pretty obvious, isn’t it? Well, guess what, this rule applies to you as well. Yes, people can tell when you are not interested in them or if you are looking past them. Don’t do it. Show people respect and give them your attention and you’ll be amazed at how much more pleasant and elevated your interactions will become.
Alternatively, if a conversation goes “bad” or you simply must move on. Do so with confidence and, if possible, grace. There is rarely a good reason to leave negative comments in your wake. Rule of thumb, try leaving every conversation with a smile - it’s a good final look.
Pre conversational life-lines
Prepared questions or conversation starters are usually pretty corny and often infect conversations with an artificial feel that makes genuine connection more difficult than if everyone just stared in silence. YET, when used in a lighthearted way, there’s nothing wrong with a few little toss outs or prepared comments (or questions) to loosen people up or to help yourself out of an awkward situation.
Rather than repeating a classic conversation-starter, it’s best to come up with something unique yourself. This is a fun exercise and it’s very easy. Just imagine that you walked into class and your teacher asked you to put down in your writing journal what you did that day or - better yet - that week. After a few moments thought, no doubt a few activities will come to mind. Maybe you tried a new restaurant, saw a new movie, saw something beautiful, had a cool thought, or anything else. All of these “events” are potential authentic “openers.”
Have you ever shopped at ___? I tried it for myself the first time yesterday and I like it. They had a really good ___.
I saw ___ the other day, it was so funny. Are you watching anything good?
Plus there is the all-time best, which is simply commenting on the weather. Try to frame any comments about the weather in a positive light though. If that’s not possible, comment about how nice it’s GOING to be at some point in the future. The point to remember is that there’s no one less interesting and more of a “downer” than someone complaining about the weather (or, for that matter, traffic).
You can also get creative about the moments surrounding your conversation. For instance, if you’re at an October networking event, it’s a great time to bring up fun memories of childhood trick-or-treating, especially if you ask others to talk about some of their memories. Ask about what candies they used to like or anything else that might spark a smile. You’ll be genuinely amazed at the positive results such authentic and kind interactions can have at a professional networking event. Suddenly, the person you are talking to becomes a PERSON and they in a very natural way you’re talking about skills, opportunities, partnerships, collaborations, and more. This should not be EXPECTED, but it is indeed something that will occur if you focus on connecting with people in a healthy way rather than “what can I get out of this person.”
How to act at networking events | Conclusion
There you have it, some things to think about at your next networking events. Good luck, and keep moving forward. The future is bright!
Other posts you may enjoy:
- An introduction to networking | Networking 101
- Introvert networking | A guide for the shy
- Digital business cards for realtors