With “in person” networking events now making a huge comeback, our editor and careers consultant Husnara Begum sets out below her top five tips for working the room.
Tip 1: Fight your fear and arrive first
No! I haven’t lost the plot. Arriving first allows you to make a quick beeline for the host(s) who will welcome you and offer a drink. Such a warm greeting will help put you at ease. What’s more, when the next guest arrives a good host is likely to introduce you to him/her thereby reducing the risk of standing on your own desperately waiting for someone to come over and say hello. Another advantage of arriving first or early is that it’s far less intimidating than entering a room full of people.
Tip 2: Research guests in advance
If possible, get your hands on the guest list / programme and do some background research into individuals who you’d like to add to your address book. Looking up prospective contacts’ career histories, recent work highlights and other interests will help you to tailor introductions that will have more impact when trying to strike a rapport with them. Also, having a hit list of people you want to meet means you’re less likely to end up wandering around aimlessly making small talk with random strangers. Indeed, you’re more likely to make a success of business networking if you adopt a more targeted approach and master the art of conversation. For tips on how to make a conversation flow check out this blog!
Tip 3: Be kind and make the first move
Very few people feel super confident attending business networking and/or recruitment events. Most worry about the prospect of striking a conversation with strangers out of fear of rejection or lack of self-worth (ie I’m not important so why would anyone want to speak to me?). As such, why not do other guests a favour by walking over, smiling and introducing yourself to them? Trust me, people standing on their own are easy targets as they’ll be super thankful for your kind gesture.
Tip 4: Shake off the bore
I’d often attend networking events and find myself being monopolised by a boring or self-centred individual who gets in the way of me interacting with the people who really matter. And if you’re anything like me no doubt you’ll feel awkward or indeed guilty trying to get rid of them before eventually saying you need a comfort break. I’ve since realised that it’s absolutely fine to move on if a person starts to get boring or if a conversation naturally comes to an end. I find the best way to do this is simply to say one of the following:
“XXXXXX it was a pleasure to meet you, but I must go and say hello to XXXXX as I’ve not seen him/her for a while. Enjoy the rest of your evening and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.”
“XXXXXX I’m feeling parched [hungry] shall we go [to the bar] [and check out the buffet]?” This is a more subtle option as it’s hinting to the other person that you’re done talking to them but of course carries the risk that they’ll follow you.
“XXXXXX I’ve just spotted my colleague [friend] XXXXXX, shall we go and say hello to him/her?” Again, this is a more subtle option but similar to the one above the person may take up your suggestion and decide to join you.
Tip 5: Look out for ‘open’ groups
A couple or a group of people huddled together are very difficult to crack, even for the most seasoned networker. Therefore, look out for open groups shaped in a semi-circle or one with an obvious gap. This will pave the way for you to wait on the edge with the aim of gaining eye contact with someone in the group. Smile and it’s almost certain he/she will invite you to join him/her and the others.