Tips to Survive Your Next Networking Event

“So, What Do You Do?”

4 Tips to Survive Your Next Networking Event

After years of coaching private clients and young professionals in my meetup group about their discomfort with networking, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 2 types of people in this world: those who love networking events and those who loathe it. I find that most of my clients fall into the latter category. Usually it sounds something like this “Networking in D.C. is terrible. Nobody is actually interested in making a genuine connection, it’s all about what you do and who you know. I’m tired of being instantly judged.”

I get it. Networking in the way that we’ve all be taught to do it (Hi! Here’s my business card! Are you hiring? No? Ok- thanks, bye!) can feel awkward and self-serving, but it doesn’t have to. Like anything else, if you shift your belief about it, it can be an incredibly energizing and fulfilling experience.

Think of it like this – networking events are kind of like going on a big group blind date. You wouldn’t ask a person you met to marry you the same night you met them, would you? So why is it we expect people to fall in love with us at first sight and part the red sea to get us a new job or propel us forward in some way? It’s unrealistic, unfair, and sets us up for disappointment. Not to mention, it puts unnecessary stress and pressure on you to make a good impression. You know what happens when we’re trying too hard, right? We come off as disingenuous!

So what if instead of going in to a network event with the expectation you had to get something from it, you viewed it is a way to begin building relationships with future colleagues? Because creating and fueling relationships is truly what it’s all about.

Here are 4 tried and true ways to help you do that:

#1- The focus of your conversation shouldn’t be on what you or the other person does, it should be about who they are.

Often when I facilitate networking events, I ask participants to agree to one rule: do not ask the question “So, what do you do?” I find that question often stresses people out. Most of us default to it because it’s an easy and socially acceptable conversation starter. Instead, ask a question lets the other person know you’re actually interested in a way that invites them into a more powerful conversation.

A few alternatives might be:

  • I’ve been to several of {name of organization} events and the thing I enjoy most is _____, how about you?
  • How are you connected to the {cause, topic, organizer, or target market of the event}? Interesting! I’d love to hear more about that…
  • How do you enjoy spending your time when you’re not at work?
  • What topics or issues do you frequently find yourself talking about? What makes them important to you?

This will allow you to get to know the human being standing in front of you, not just the interpretation of the person you’re making up based off of their title or the company they work for.

#2-Make your intention to give value to others, and not expect it in return.

If you walk into an event with the intention that you’re only purpose is to find a few people who you easily connect with and find out how you could help them, then how could you not walk away feeling good? When you use this as your frame of reference, you’ll find that people naturally gravitate to you because they can sense your authenticity.

How do you help? There’s a variety of ways which could be anything from recommending a good book or website to offering to introduce them to someone in your network. When people help us, it’s only natural for us to want to return the favor.  So remember, you have to give (because you genuinely want to, and trust that it will come back around to you).

#3- Ditch the traditional elevator speech and instead come up with something that authentically tells people who you are and what motivated you to attend the event.

Your opening spiel doesn’t have to include anything about your job. Have a passion that you pursue outside your 9-5? Share it! Do you daydream about owning a B&B and offering yoga retreats? Tell them!

Make your elevator speech a reflection of who you are and what drives you. Who says it has to include all the info that they can read on your business card? I’m sure the conversation will take you there eventually, but it doesn’t have to be their first impression of you.

So let’s say someone asks “So, what do you do?” One way to respond might be “By day I work in a fundraising department, but my true passion is traveling and my goal is to eat a meal in all 50 states by age 35. How about you?”

#4- Carefully pick who you will invest time and energy into building a relationship with.

Chances are you are going to meet a lot of people. Pick those that you hit it off with and can see yourself enjoying future conversations and ask them if you can follow up. If they say yes, find out what platform they would prefer- email, phone call, LinkedIn request? Remember this isn’t a one-night stand, it’s a blind date and you’re hoping for a chance to take them out to dinner.

Once they tell you what they’d prefer, then go home and do it! This part is easy if there’s only 1 or 2 people you’ve chosen to invest your energy and time into instead of every person at the event.

P.S.- Want to practice your new skills? Considering joining us at Coaching & Cocktails THIS Wednesday, 3/16. Register here.