Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, many of us find large networking events to be overwhelming. Often we walk away feeling as though we didn’t get much out of the event.
On a personal level, this has absolutely been the case. The idea of walking up to a crowd of strangers, trying to insert myself into the conversation, and come across interesting or impressive is just too much.
As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention.” So with that backdrop I set out to learn some hacks to help myself cope with the intimidation factor and hopefully get more authentic connection out of these types of events.
Below are the secrets that have taken me from avoiding networking events to (almost 😀) looking forward to them!
There is no substitute for psyching yourself up (just a little)
It is always going to be a little intimidating to make your first point of connection. You have to give yourself just that little boost of courage to be willing to walk up there and say hello.
I find that it’s more difficult to approach a large group than a smaller group of 2-3 people. The large group is less likely to take notice of one more person and will not feel obligated to pull you into the conversation.
So look for a smaller group, try to make eye contact with one member as you are approaching, and don’t be afraid to speak first. Simply say hello and introduce yourself. You can always ask, “Am I interrupting?”, which they will inevitably say “no” to, and that will further help to pull you into the conversation.
You are looking for depth, not breadth
If you make 1-2 new connections that are worthy of a meaningful follow-up from a networking event, it was worth your time. So don’t feel pressured to meet every single person in the room and speed date.
Instead, find a small number of people where you sense some connection, and spend enough time with them to be able to carry a relationship forward from the event. Use the principles of The Coffee Shop Interview to ask good questions and really learn what they are about. Don’t keep it just to work - try to learn about their values. It will make for a more interesting and memorable conversation!
Look for opportunities to serve the people you meet
The number one most effective way to move beyond chit chat to a meaningful connection is to find a way to serve the person you have just met. One of the most valuable ways you can do this (and also one of the least costly to you!) is to offer an introduction or connection to someone your new friend should meet.
One of my favorite thinkers on this is Brad Feld, who pioneered the tagline of #GiveFirst as the guiding principle of his own networking and the startup communities he was helping to create.
Look for those opportunities to serve! You will be amazed at how much richer your relationships become if you can learn to give first.
Keep track of names in real time
This is the most important hack that took me from feeling overwhelmed in networking events to some sense of sanity and control.
Whether it’s a little index card in your pocket or a note in your phone, have a means to quickly take down a couple of the harder to remember things about each person you meet. In particular, their name and the names of any family members they shared with you.
Names are difficult for us to hold in our memories on a good day, and when you are in a rapid fire environment it is almost impossible. If you can quickly jot down names and other key items as you go, you’ll be able to recall most of the remaining details from memory after the event.
Grab a selfie with your new friend
At a networking event, the classic ritual is to exchange business cards. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s impersonal and easy to lose track of.
In addition to getting their contact information, get a photo with the people you meet. It will help you to remember who they are and place their face with the name. It also sets you apart from others as someone genuinely interested in building a relationship instead of just another face in the crowd.
Make it explicit that you want to remember them
I find that taking the selfie is one of the most valuable tricks of anything you can do at an event like this. Why? You are signaling that you care enough to remember them.
You don’t have to restrict yourself to implying that fact. Come right out and say it! Imagine how good you would feel if the person you were talking with said to you, “I’m really enjoying this conversation and I want to make sure we stay in touch.”
That is the best compliment you could receive, so give it freely!
Take a picture of the room
Even if you don’t get to the point of taking a selfie with every person you meet, there will be details worth remembering about many others throughout the event. By the time you finish, your brain is usually fried and there will be entire conversations that will have slipped through your mind already.
By taking a couple of wider angled pictures of the whole room or the groups you are interacting with, you will give your brain the extra cue it needs to remember and document the conversation to be able to follow up.
Get the list of attendees if you can
For many networking events, there will be a registration ahead of time as well as a sign-in sheet. Don’t hesitate to ask the organizer to share that with you after the fact. That will help you to fill in last names with first names and oftentimes you can get contact info for attendees you may have chatted with but not exchanged information.
Use that information to send a nice note saying you enjoyed meeting them, and express something specific from the conversation you enjoyed!
Take down notes on every conversation
Finding a place to be able to capture the most important details about everyone you learned is essential. Without this, there was truly no point in attending at all.
Needless to say, we designed the Contact Mapping app with this very use case in mind. But no matter how you do it, just do it!
Take a few moments to remember what you learned about each person and make sure you’ll be able to get back to that information in the future.
Follow up with everyone you met
Even if it’s a simple LinkedIn connection (ALWAYS with a personalized note in the invitation), every person you met deserves a follow up. The more personal your communication channel the better, so send an email or a handwritten card if you can. Take the time to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and then stay in touch periodically.
Social media can be a great way to keep the periodical light touches going and see where the conversation can lead.
You can do this!
Each one of these things is simple and does not require a big, gregarious personality to do it! Start small with just a couple of connections at an event, and if you start to feel overloaded, don’t be afraid to leave or step away and take a break.
We would love to hear what you think and how this helps you, so feel free to drop a comment below.