If you want to advance your career, you know the standard advice: Go to networking events! But attending an unfamiliar event (with unfamiliar attendees) can be intimidating, so much so that many of us shy away from attending altogether. With a few tips and tricks, you can confidently approach networking events and make career-lifting connections:
Do your homework. Some event organizers will share a guest list in advance. If so, search attendees’ LinkedIn profiles to scout out whom you’d like to meet. Reach out to a handful of people beforehand to mention you’ll be attending and would love to connect. This way you’ll know a few faces and names—and will have a much more productive evening.
Get there early. “I always try to arrive early, before people have paired off,” says Jenny Powers, founder and CEO of Running With Heels, a professional women’s networking group. With only a few people hanging around at the name-tag table, it’s far easier to approach someone by whom you might otherwise feel intimidated. And when others arrive, Powers adds, “you feel like a greeter.” You’ve already made yourself comfortable.
Do unto others… Unsure who to approach? “Walk up to someone who’s by herself. I wouldn’t want to be by myself!” admits Powers. “And everybody likes to be complimented.” (A statement necklace or great shoes are both safe topics.) Better yet, ask how the person learned of the event or if she’s heard the evening’s speaker before.
Focus on how you can help. Networking can feel inauthentic, but if you focus on how you can help other people achieve their goals it’s a lot more fun. “It’s really about listening for cues for how to continue the conversation,” explains Powers. If you’d like to connect with the person after the event, you can offer your card, or ask if you can send a LinkedIn invitation (be sure to add a note to the default invite so the person remembers who you are). If you’d like to see the person again, ask if there are other networking events she’ll be attending that you should know about. Or mention one you’re going to yourself—it’s a low-key way to lobby for another meeting.
Consider hosting your own networking event. You won’t be intimidated if you’re running the show! And the type of event all depends on what you want to get out of it:
- You can do this on a small scale with one or more key people at a restaurant. If you go this route, make sure you choose a restaurant that is quiet enough to have a conversation and can seat you at a round table to encourage discussion. Also, since you’ll likely be the one footing the bill, communicate the price and menu options to your guests in advance so everyone knows what to expect. Bonus tip: Reward yourself for being the host by using a credit card that will earn you points. The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, for example, allows cardholders to earn 2X points for dining at restaurants – that’s two points for every dollar spent.
- Another good option, especially if there’s a particular topic you’d like to explore, is to plan an event on a slightly larger scale with a little help from your community. Connect, Citi’s network of professional women on LinkedIn, has a SlideShare presentation on “How to Host a Professional Meet-Up.” You can approach local businesses and authors about speaking at your get-together, and share the guest list beforehand to build buzz.
Also consider how to break the ice for other people: “I always, always introduce a person arriving at the dinner to someone who’s already there before welcoming the next arrival,” suggests Michele Langer, Director of Brand Marketing at Summit Professional Networks.