Went to my first networking event in a while last week. As the summer comes to an end and work starts to gear up it seemed that this was a good time to dust off some work apparel and broaden my network.
At these things, you can often find people approaching the event from two different camps. The energising, "This will be fantastic! An opportunity to meet new people", vs the soul-sapping, "I'd rather be at the dentist... this'll be 3 hours of my life I'll never get back." I try to sit in the first camp. I tend to find meeting new people interesting. Everyone is different, so there's always the possibility of learning something new.
Where I find it really hard work is when you have a few too many people from the 'this will sap my soul' camp. Making conversation resembles a trip to the dentist as prying snippets of conversation beyond monosyllabic responses from them feels rather like pulling teeth. Knowing some folks who can inhabit the 'it'll be soul-sapping' camp, and understanding that they come from shyness, dislike of anything new, can't abide small talk, etc. I try to make allowances.
Whichever camp you approach these things from... here's a bit of advice if you're braving a networking event soon...
Go with the right attitude. If you approach it like a visit to the dentist.. it will feel like one because your body language will ensure everyone in a 50 mile radius avoids you. At the same time, if you're the enthusiastic type... try not to approach everyone like an over excited labradoodle, bounding around eagerly interrupting conversation willy nilly. You'll just irritate people... especially the dentist camp lot.
Try to meet four new people. Don't latch onto the first new person you have a connection with. No matter how much you like them. Swap details and follow up with them afterwards. Do not just hang around people you know, however vaguely. The idea is to meet new people. Meaningful relationships develop over time, not a 2-3 hour networking event. This doesn't mean that you should be zooming around the room collecting as many name cards as possible. Try to actually meet people, talk to them, find out what you might have in common.
Be kind. Everyone is there to meet new people. If you see someone on their own, invite them to join you with the people you are standing with. There is nothing worse than standing around feeling like ‘billy no mates’, so look after each other.
Contribute. You often hear, a good conversationalist is a good listener, which is very true until you have two or three listeners together and nobody wants to start the conversation, or just aren't very chatty. Do not just let one person struggle to keep the conversation going, participate. Give people something to work with. Avoid asking endless questions of people, it can feel like an interrogation. People want to know something about you as well, so volunteer some information and help the conversation flow.... Just don't get too carried away, people don't need your life history or chapter and verse about your latest drama. Keep things light, remember to breathe and listen.
Finally, have a little fun. It's two to three hours of your life. It's not life and death.