Back to basics: Attending your first networking event? Have no clue what to expect? Maybe you've connected with people via LinkedIn but have never officially networked in person. Here are some things to keep in mind and follow when attending your first networking event.
Ask yourself, why are you going?
Before actually attending the event, it's important to understand why you are even attending. Are you trying to network for a new job? Are you just going to meet new people? Maybe, you're just going because you heard there's food...Whatever it is, identify your goal and reason for why you want to attend. Make this goal something quantifiable, such as meeting two new colleagues or getting five new business cards.
...Speaking of business cards
You want to be remembered (for good reasons, of course) after leaving the event. Unfortunately, there's probably dozens of other people who are also hoping to be remembered. It's important to bring business cards to the event and hand them out to people you speak to. Make sure the business cards are professional, include your contact information, and are easy to read. The last thing you want is a tye-dye business card with your name in comic sans font.
Tip: As for arriving at the event, don't be late, don't get the location mixed up, and most importantly, dress professionally! This is not the time to be trying out those new jeggings or oversized sports coat. Look presentable and approachable.
Yeah, we get it: It's extremely nerve-wrecking to walk up to someone completely random and try to make small talk. But here's the thing: Almost everyone there will be doing it.
To really make an impression, approach a prospective individual confidently and acceptingly. Smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake. Introduce your name, make sure you get theirs, and begin small talk.
Listen. Seem genuinely interested in the other person. Then, finally speak.
Find something to connect over that's not only work related. You may begin talking about work, questioning what they do, understanding what their company does, but after that, try to move on. After all, we are all humans and we don't work 24/7. The best relationships made are those that are professional on the one hand and approachable as well.
The infographic below is a perfect example of what should not happen (Left) and what should happen (Right). Give them a chance to speak, listen to what they have to say, and then bounce off of that.
Make a memorable impression.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Make sure you seem interested in the other person. If you follow the above correctly, you should spend less time talking about yourself an more time focused on the other individual. However, you should certainly not be overshadowing yourself. You still want to make a memorable impression so that person remembers you post event.
You can do this by asking the other person some questions to stay engaged in the conversation. Questions like "how do you like you new company's product" or "how did you get started in this field" are great openers.
Bid farewell and move onto the next.
Upon conclusion of chatting, make sure you leave them with your business card. To seem genuinely interested, make sure you stress that it was great meeting and speaking with them and that you look forward to hopefully chatting again in the near future. Make sure you follow-up with this person after the event. Don't just get their business card and then never email back.
Again, don't forget to give another firm handshake, more eye contact, and smile before moving onto the next person. These are just people, after all. Don't be scared, you'll do great.
As for following up after the networking event? That's for next time.