A Guide For Your First Networking Event
by Robert Ellis, on March 21, 2016
There comes a time in a person's life that they have to attend the dreaded networking event for the first time.
It's a scary prospect, as you imagine the hordes of people you don't know but who seem to all know each other, gathering around chatting like social interaction isn't one of the hardest things on the planet to master.
And that's just it. I'm not a master of social interaction, nor will I pretend to be.
So before I share what I learned, let's walk you through my event.
I arrived ten minutes early so, instead of running in and announcing myself to the world, I walked down to the newsagents and bought myself an energy drink and a packet of cheap corn-based, pickled onion flavour crisps (they were space invaders and they were delicious).
What a wimp.
To be honest, going in early might have made my entrance easier, fewer people means it's harder for them to ignore you, making it much less difficult to meet people. Learn from my mistakes, if you get there early, just go for it. Though, as it turned out this wasn't a problem - I'll tell you why in a bit.
Five minutes later and one energy drink down I stood outside psyching myself up for a barrage of technical questions and shaming claims that I shouldn't be there anyway so why don't I just go home.
Suitably psyched, pausing only to take a selfie to send to my boss, I went in.
Anyway, I went in.
And there was nobody there.
After chatting to a rather confused looking gentleman in a suit about Inbound Marketing and why it was the most important thing in the world for five minutes, I realised the event was upstairs.
Moral of this story? Read the invitation properly.
When I eventually made it up the curling staircase, to the right location, I found a group of a dozen other young looking people standing around, not really talking. So much for groups of people making it hard to talk to people.
Nervously, I signed in, popped my card into the bowl - not my keys (yes I made that joke, it wasn't clever or original but people laughed politely - don't judge me!) and began chatting to the nearest person I could.
The relief on my face as I realised the person I was talking to was a normal human being was probably very obvious, as my cheeks gradually returned to a normal pinkish colour and they realised I wasn't sun burnt.
I had managed to meet the only other marketer there, hooray! Well, ish. It's not really about meeting other people in your own profession but it meant we had something to talk about straight off the bat. We collected our free drinks together and got about chatting.
It turned out we do different types of marketing, so we weren't in competition to get our voices heard, phew. I'm not sure I could have dealt with that. We talked about work, what I do - read this blog post -, and a host of other things not at all related to work. We even added eachother on LinkedIn,
From there, I was introduced to a half dozen other people from various professions such as bankers and solicitors.
As I grew in confidence, I started introducing myself to different groups of people, that my new friends didn't know, and found them to be equally as entertaining and welcoming as the others.
I wasn't asked too many challenging questions or kicked out for being too unimportant for their group and overall I counted the night as a success. With a dozen business cards collected and some great new people to connect with on LinkedIn, I left.
What I Learned - What To Say
From what I can see from my first time, ahem, these networking events require a balance of professionalism and personality.
Go in too strongly with your professional head on and you risk making yourself look like a robot who nobody wants to talk to.
Equally though, if you don't talk shop then people will think you're just there for the free beer. Though I did enjoy the free beer, thanks to BTMK Solicitors, DCA Business Recovery and Rickard Luckin Chartered Accountants!
Side Note: If you're given a coupon for a free drink, and then asked if you have already received a coupon half an hour later, try to look serious as you say no. I wasn't given the second coupon.
It's often thought that conversation is a two way street, but really people just want to talk about themselves. Why? Because that's the easiest topic anybody can cover. Does this make them selfish, vain people?
Definitely not, it's just what we're most comfortable talking about.
But it does mean you should listen, ask questions and only try to talk about yourself when asked. I caught myself rambling about my life a couple of times and had to rein myself in before I looked completely self obsessed.
How To Act
Remember to smile!
Nobody wants to talk to somebody who looks like they've just eaten a lemon. If you introduce yourself with a broad smile then it puts everybody at ease. Being a source of happiness makes other people associate you with that feeling and will help them to remember you.
Remember We Are All People
Behind that suit there's a person. If you feel snubbed by anyone just remember they could be having a really bad day, week or month. You never know what's going on behind the scenes, so try not to form bad impressions of people and always give them a second chance.
Besides, politeness costs nothing.
Collect Business Cards
Gathering those business cards means nothing if you just leave them in the drawer to gather dust.
The day after my event I set about conecting with all of the people I met on LinkedIn. Just ten minutes after completing this task, one of them messaged me asking if I'd like to go and have another drink and talk about marketing at a later date.
What a result!
LinkedIn is a great way to keep track of all the people you've met but you'll want to do more than just keep track.
Message these people, tell them how good it was to meet them and say you're looking forward to meeting them again at the next event.
When you've done this, don't forget to post things you think they may be interested in. If they like your posts then it's keeping you top of mind when they next need your product or service.
I really enjoyed my first networking event and in the end, yes, I did take the obligitory, self gratifying success selfie to send to my boss.
Learn More About LinkedIn
If you're going on your first networking event and want to know more about connecting with the people you meet, just download our LinkedIn In 10 Minutes A Day eBook.
Inside you'll learn the dos and don'ts of connecting to people on LinkedIn, among a host of other useful things.
You can click the link above or the button below to grab your free copy now.