I do a lot of networking. Not just a little, I do a LOT. My job is to connect the dots between our company and our clients so that we can literally help build our communities. To do that I rub elbows with a lot of industry colleagues, every week. Because of this, you’d imagine that it comes naturally for me to “work a room.” You know what working a room is: navigating a networking event (think cocktail party for business) and connecting with colleagues or even perfect strangers in a meaningful way. Well, I’ll tell you a secret. I used to be horrible at it. I was the one huddled on the sidelines with the one or two other people I knew, awkward and (I was certain) obvious.
But I had to learn and, like any good engineer, I came up with a tool belt of techniques that turns networking from awkward into awesome:
- Before going to the event make a goal. It might be “Meet three new people and find out what they love to do”; or (having asked for the guest list ahead of time, which is often available from the organizers) “Connect with Jane Doe, John Smith, and Gordon Dalrymple.” And (this is important) once you’ve substantially met your goal give yourself permission to leave. That takes a LOT of pressure off.
- A valued colleague, who tends to get scared when entering a room full of strangers shared this tip: If you’re scared you tend to breathe shallowly and give off the “I’m not really approachable” vibe. The first step when entering a function? Breathe deeply. It will change that vibe and change your whole experience!
- When entering the event, do NOT stop after coming through the front door. Walk, with purpose through the group towards the other end of the room. While walking, scan the crowd for people you’d like to talk with and discern how you’ll join groups. Often, there’s a bar or food table in the back of any event, so walking through is natural. Believe me, it is a lot less obvious than standing stock still at the front door. Extra tip: note those who are standing alone; they would probably be grateful if you introduce yourself!
- When joining a group enter across from someone you know or who looks nice enough to let you in. This way they will see you and can work to include you in the group.
- Unless you are best friends with all those in the group, extend your hand, make eye contact and introduce yourself by name: “I’m Laura Reinbold, it’s a pleasure to see you.” Especially if you aren’t wearing a name tag! Even acquaintances forget your name in the fray and those around will remember you better.
- Have some small talk questions ready and a story or two. A current event works great: the latest sporting exploit; industry accomplishment in the community; or something relevant to the event itself. One question that works well is “How are you connected to (this event) (the hosts)?”
- While food and beverages are usually abundant, resist eating too much or, worse, over indulging. It’s hard to walk around balancing a plate of food and a wine glass, and still talk professionally. Choose one at a time. And having that second or third glass of free wine might be economical but it might not serve you well, conversationally. Nurse that cabernet.
- When it’s time to go, or leave a group of colleagues, simply say “It was lovely to see you; I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.” No need for long explanations — everyone is there to move around.
- Lastly, relax and be yourself. The more relaxed and comfortable you are, the more you will make others feel comfortable and THAT will make a great impression!
About Laura Reinbold, PE
Ms. Reinbold explores ways http://www.ttlusa.com can help build our communities, from the geoprofessional side of the engineering profession.