Networking events are those times in business and life when people gather together, generally in larger numbers to exchange contact info, see acquaintances, and socialize.

How can networking be thriving as opposed to just surviving, in these situations? Don’t wait until you are in the right mindset to make connections and network. You have to kick yourself out the door. Once you are there, apply the 3 P’s strategy “Pause, Process, Pace”.

Pause

There are several steps in this process that will help you prepare for a successful networking experience. Think of it as a time to make connections, not sales.

  • Preregister. Committing to an event in advance makes you less likely to back down. You then have time for mental preparation, and you ensure yourself a spot at events that matter. Too many people register for FREE events and never show up. You can gain so much by just showing up. It means you are committed to your business.
  • Volunteer. Arrange in advance to assist with the event. Many people that hate networking are more comfortable when they are in a designated, structured role. Working at the event provides you with a specific reason to engage with others, which is better than poking around for small talk and passing out business cards.
  • Go with a friend. Having a networking partner can transform your experience. Challenge each other to take turns venturing out and reporting back about who you met. This also helps you to remember something about them. Introduce others to someone that they may have something in common with.
  • Clarify your goals. Why are you attending? Set clear, measurable outcomes such as meeting two new people. Be realistic. Don’t think you are going to meet everyone.
  • Arrive at the event early. It is better to enter a room with a few people than one with a crowd packed in and close together. Gatherings are much more informal near the beginning.

Process

The following steps ensure that you have a successful plan before you meet connections which may be potential prospects or referral sources.

  • Peruse the nametag table. Early arrival ensures most nametags have not been picked up yet, allowing you to check for attendance of those you know or that you want to meet.
  • Lingering by the food. Staging yourself by the food is a good standby, particularly if you missed dinner (but don’t arrive with an empty stomach). Food areas offer a temporary place, purpose, and talking point. Just take small enough bites to be able to respond to others.
  • Survey the room. Position yourself somewhere between the entry and the inner circles to obtain a good view of the maximum number of attendees. Conduct a slow visual scan. Look for those you know and those who seem approachable (not a closed conversation).
  • Get in line. Lines provide a fine alternative to standing around alone. Conversation openers with fellow line mates include asking about work, origin of an interesting name, or what brought them to the event. Completing your time in the line provides a built-in closer, exchange contact information and be on your way.
  • Make good eye contact. This conveys an interest in others while increasing their positive perceptions of you. Eye contact also disciplines you to stay focused.
  • Be an open target. Make yourself approachable. Maintain a pleasant expression. Standing-only tables are magnets for solitary folks open to conversation.

Pace

The following tips will help you make the most of your time.

  • Focus on others. For many people interacting with strangers is one of the least appealing aspects of networking. The most common reason is, “I have no idea what to talk about!” You don’t have to. Just listen more than speaking. Show interest in them.

People appreciate thoughtful questions. Displaying interest makes others like you. Be interested NOT interesting.

Sample openers include:

1) What kind of work do you do?

What do you like to do in your free time?

2) What interesting projects are you working on?

3) How was your day? What would make it better?

4) Do you have plans for [this weekend, vacations, or the summer]?

  • Schedule breaks. Socializing can deplete your energy. Head out for a breather, step away to refresh, decompress on a brisk walk, or check your messages.
  • Reduce overload. Particularly at major events, there can be many rooms and a lot going on. Take a walk around to get the lay of the area. Keep hydrated. Let go of what you should do or be doing.
  • Visit the information table. Event organizers often display information about products or services. Perusing pamphlets allows you to learn about your hosts, provides conversation ideas, and gives you the opportunity to pause.
  • Write it down. Note pertinent information on business cards of new acquaintances. Do not overestimate your future memory capacity.

Include:

Name, with correct pronunciation hints

Event location and date

Personal facts (family, birthday, upcoming travel, interests, etc.)

Brief conversation summary

Intended follow-up

Jotting notes also provides built-in time away from continual interaction.

  • End conversations gracefully. Don’t allow a conversation to fizzle out. Avoid making others feel trapped when talking with you.

Smile and say:

  1. May I have your card? It was great meeting you.
  2. Have you met [colleague passing by]?
  3. I’m going to step away for a moment.
  4. I need to make a call.
  5. I’ve enjoyed our conversation! Thank you.
  6. I look forward to following up with you.
  7. I promised myself that I would circulate, I better walk around.
  8. I’m sure you want to talk with others; I don’t want to keep you.

If you claim to be headed somewhere, really go. A positive demeanor, light-hearted tone, and friendly smile are critical.

  • Plan your escape. Have a plan for leaving. If you are tied into other people’s schedules, find a place to wait while they finish up. You are not at your best when you become anxious.
  • Know when to split. Leave before you burn out, when you have accomplished your goals, and before you feel like your head is about to explode. Prepare what to say when you are ready to leave.

In my case, I have noticed that saying, “I am a coach” does the trick. I am ditched in no time.