5 Tips to Avoid Awkward Networking

January 31, 2017

Scenes from 2nd San Francisco Wednesdays popup. Photo by Peter Brock.

 

Originally published on TWIGG How To

 

It's the start of a new year and most of us are getting our networking calendars in queue. I don't know about you, but I tend to look at those events I signed up for in advance and sigh with trepidation. I'm an extroverted introvert, so while I do like mingling occassionally I also find it 10x more exhausting than my extrovert counterparts. But businesses don't build themselves, so as I've been working the last few years on my culinary consulting firm and Wednesdays, I've learned some good tips to ease up on the networking pain we all feel. Hopefully with some of these tips in your arsenal, your next networking event will feel less intimidating, and maybe even open the door to let you have some fun!

 

1) Integrate some fun facts into your “elevator pitch” (a short, prepared speech that explains what your organization does).

It is a good thing when you meet new people at a networking event, but that also means they don’t know anything about you. Practice a few tried-and-true blurbs about yourself in front of the mirror so you can slide easily into answering questions like “What do you do?” or “How did you find out about this?” or “How do you like [your field]?” This is the bulk of what you'll be saying all night, so I find adding a few fun facts about yourself can really make this interaction much less tedious. I'd be more apt to remember the deli owner who also enjoys jet-skiing around the Hudson, wouldn't you? If this sounds a little bit like a recital and work in one, you are right – but by making your answers to these commonplace questions a no-brainer for yourself, it alleviates the burden of that element of the networking event right off the bat.

 

2) Challenge others with interesting questions.

Everyone at networking events know and oblige the boring questions (see #1) but sifting through the crowd usually involves more work than the first few generic remarks. Asking someone their thoughts on an article you read related to their industry, for instance, sets you apart as someone who is more engaged and genuinely interested in discussion. Even something light-hearted like asking a stranger’s opinion on a mass news topic (i.e. should the Avengers receive political oversight?) spurs the conversation beyond small-talk to a lively conversation. If you’re not someone who can think of questions like this on the fly, think of a few easy and approachable topics you want to talk about before you go! No one will know you prepared and you’ll have more fun talking about topics you’re interested in and get to know everyone better.

 

3) Have a goal and set a time limit.

For those who especially dread networking, it is mentally helpful to set an end time to when you will leave the event. However, this means you now do not have indefinite amounts of time to network, so you need to have some goals in mind. Everyone networks for different reasons, and networking “just to network” usually results in nothing actionable or useful to you. Is your goal to meet the keynote speaker and ask him/her a few questions? If so, make sure you’re seated close to the front of the stage and have your question topics (see #2) available and ready once the speaker finishes. If your goal is to pitch your business to potential clients, make sure to have your business card ready, your name tag displaying your business name, and a have a quick pitch to tell people. Now the best part of having a goal? Once you achieve your goal, you can go home early (if you want) and feel good about yourself!

 

4) Learn how to leave a conversation gracefully.

Do you ever get stuck in a long conversation with one person at a networking event? We all do. There’s a few different ways to gracefully ease yourself out of a conversation, but one that also leaves a good impression is for you to connect that person with a new person. It could be someone you just met or a friend of yours, but try to make the connection one that makes sense for both parties (i.e. “It’s really cool you’re so into murals, you should totally meet my friend who is an artist on the side.”) If you’re still stuck and coming up empty on leads, be direct when excusing yourself – awkwardly saying you’re going to “get more wine” doesn’t leave a good impression. A great way to use your goal (see #3) is to cut certain conversations short: “I’ve had a great time chatting with you, but I have to leave by 9pm and my goal for the night was to ask [speaker] a few questions” is an excellent and professional leeway to leave.

 

5) Talk about the food/drink.

When all else fails, chat about food or drink. Instead of saying it's "delicious" - maybe some more colorful commentary about flavors or texture. Do keep it complimentary – you don’t know if it’s been sponsored and you just happen to be talking to said generous donor :) 

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