Networking events are awkward. Let’s just get that out there, they are. Not even the most effervescent individual avoids a bit of dread walking into one, but in the service industry, they are a necessary evil and if you want to work your way up the corporate ladder, it’s a skill that needs to be developed. Here are 3 “tricks” I’ve learned that help me make the most of these events.
- We all know we should ask the other person questions about themselves, but it’s hard to know where to start with a stranger. My favorite all purpose networking ice breaker: “So what projects are you working on?” So generic that it applies to just about anyone from any industry, even those you know nothing about. Even works at parent networking events or cocktail parties!
- It’s important to have a graceful exit line, and that often takes a bit of preparation. I like to carry a nearly empty glass with me and when I’m feeling the need to exit a conversation, I simply take the last drink and excuse myself for a refill.
- Be inclusive. If someone walks up to your group, make a point to use eye contact, smiles and body language to make them feel included as soon as you notice them. It’s awkward as all get out to join a conversation in progress. Showing yourself to be a gracious conversation host makes you look good, ingratiates the new person to you and gets one more person into the conversation which gives it a better chance of going from awkward ice breakers to hitting a subject of interest for everyone involved. It also earns you good conversation karma which you’ll need next time you try to saddle up to a conversation in progress.
As in all thing, practice makes perfect. Even for those who have a knack for these things, networking is a learned skill that takes polishing. If you’re unsure about your own skills, start with some low stakes events like a Meet Up for people in your industry or an educational event with networking before or after it.