Most of us have social media networking experience. While the exchanging of cat photos and selfies is a noble pursuit, an invitation to a face-to-face networking event often equates to leaving the couch and launching yourself into a room full of strangers.
However, you don't have to rely on weather commentary to get you through. Below are a few simple tips to help you get the most out of your next professional event.
1/ Focus on being interested as opposed to interesting
Dale Carnegie famously stated “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” This isn’t as extreme as the ‘just ask questions’ advice given to Steve Carrell’s Andy Stitzer in The 40 Year Old Virgin.
The best conversationalists don’t concern themselves with hitting the high notes for humour or intelligence, but rather just being kind of great at listening. Maintain eye contact and don’t come across like you’re eyeing off the next target.
2/ Pick your moment
A former colleague was once bailed up on her way out of an event by someone seeking more information about a job with the company. Through ignoring her (repeated) polite attempts to postpone the conversation (she had a train to catch), the applicant torpedoed their own opportunity. Another manager once described sitting on the toilet with someone firing questions at her from right outside the cubicle (the awkwardness of the situation still radiated in the re-telling).
While face-to-face is a great to explore an opportunity, make sure you respect the other person’s time and, in the second case, need to be alone.
3/ Springboard from social networks to face-to-face
An event’s Twitter, Instagram etc pages often seed potential conversation starters through businesses offering live updates. However, be wary about spending too much time staring at your phone - it also makes you seem far less approachable. While it's tempting to use your phone as a social crutch if you're not sure who to approach, keep in mind that a lot of other people around you are also flying solo and that it’s perfectly acceptable to sidle up and join another group’s conversation.
4/ One step at a time
Representatives from your dream employer might be mingling, however, don’t look at it as the opportunity to manoeuvre your next big break. Focus on getting some real insights from a lot of different people. Think beforehand what you would like to know in order to get better at your job. Be curious and interested (refer to point #1) and you never know where these connections can take you, even if it’s long after the event.
5/ It gets better
Like anything else, the more you network, the easier it gets. Check out more relaxed and less pressured events like Meetups, university societies and Hackathons.