I’m using my valuable time to network and make meaningful connections, but networking with a group of strangers can be intimidating. Here’s how you can “work the room” and stand out at your next networking event.
Recently I attended a lunch event and noticed that half of the attendees were “multitasking” – checking phone messages and not making an effort to be present at the event. This is not an unusual occurrence, and it made me stop to remind myself why I was attending these networking events in the first place. I was using my time to network and make meaningful connections, but networking with a group of strangers can be intimidating (and sometimes busying yourself checking emails helps).
Nisa Chitakasem, co-author of the book 135 Networking Career Tips, explains that knowing how to “work the room” can make the difference between a waste of time, and an exhilarating event that expands your circle.”
- Set goals – Don’t be that person wandering aimlessly at an event, trying to meet as many people as possible in a short period of time. Set a goal to meet three new people that are interested in your business. Don’t aimlessly hand out business cards – find meaningful, quality connections and plan to follow-up for a lunch or coffee.
- Ask for an introduction – Do you know the organizer or an influencer in the room? Ask for an introduction to a few key people they think you should meet.
- Sit next to a stranger – Although it’s tempting to sit with those you are comfortable with, try to avoid sitting with colleagues and friends. Plan a time outside of the event to catch up and focus on meeting new contacts.
- Observe the room – Be aware of body language and target individuals or smaller groups when looking to join the conversation. If appropriate, get a glass of wine when you arrive and network while you are waiting in line.
- Conversation starters – Think of something beyond the normal elevator pitch, something that makes you stand out and makes someone want to follow-up with you. Start by asking the other person about themselves, which will give you an opportunity to share how you could help them. If you plan a list of talking points in advance, such as a new project or book you read, you will be able to share these as the conversation flows.
- Take notes – If you are not comfortable talking to others at the networking event or conference, take notes that you can share later. Jen Dziura, Founder of the Bullish Conference and Writer for Daily Worth, suggests taking killer notes on speaker presentations and sharing them with others later as a way of connecting. “Tweet during the conference that you’re doing this. As in: Taking notes now on @taliadavispr’s awesome work at #WomeninPRCanada. Will post later!” (Credit for this idea goes to artist Sarah Dale.) Post the notes on your own website or blog to allow others to find out about your work.
- Dress to impress – Stand out in a world of grey and black suits, in a red or pink blazer, if appropriate. When others are observing the room, you will be spotted.
- Use your phone with purpose – If you use your phone at a networking event, do so with purpose. Live-tweet the presentation and use the event hashtag (#WomeninPRCanada). This will allow you to connect with attendees and conference organizers on social media. If you take photos, post them on social media and tag others.
- Volunteer at the event – Go above and beyond being an attendee and volunteer for an organization that matches your career goals. For example, if you are the one always “live-tweeting” at an event, you could volunteer to run the organization’s social media (like I do for the Women in Leadership Foundation). In her Daily Worth article, 6 Ways to Stand Out at a Conference, Dziura suggests this great conversation starter: “Hi, I’m the official Instagrammer, but I also run a PR and branding firm. I obviously just love this conference!”