A Purposeful Party: Networking 101
Putting Your Best Self Forward at Events
The legendary head football coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, said “When you go into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” It’s now a pretty common saying that essentially just means, be cool.
Last week we gave some tips on how to build your own personal network to help you stay ahead of the curve in today’s job market, as well as some networking events that might be worth checking into. This week we’re going to dive into how to carry yourself while you’re actually attending one of those events. Because when it gets down to it, you want to be able to walk that walk, and talk that talk. Here’s some ways you can accomplish this.
When you go out, go somewhere where you’ll meet people who can connect you to your dream job. Then, take time to research companies that you’re interested in and see who might be showing up at your event. It can make a big difference. For example, David Yarrus, a senior manager at a top ad agency in New York, once said, “Nothing was more exciting for me than when a student approached me saying he loved the ad campaign we did for Visa.” It showed the student did his homework, and the manager was instantly engaged in the conversation and immediately wanted to know more about the student. All you need is ONE fact to blow someone away. And throwing in a compliment along with it doesn’t hurt either.
As Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room put it, “The physical act of walking into the event may be the hardest part, especially if you don’t know a soul. So take a deep breath, stand tall, and walk into the center of the room…” Or in other words be confident. Approach the unapproachable, shake hands, look them in the eye, and have a quick blurb about yourself ready to go. Having an intriguing brand statement ready will add confidence to your manner, and open the door to a bigger conversation. For instance, saying “I am a writer,” is not really going to start the ball rolling, but saying “I help people look smart and get attention on their blogs,” may cause the person to ask you questions about what you actually do. Ah, now you are cooking. Then, switch the conversation to THEM. People remember YOU more if you let THEM talk about themselves.
Ducks in a Row…
It’s probably not a good idea to have to have a briefcase filled with your resumes to hand out. It’s a social event, and connections should be made in that context. But you should be ready and come prepared. Business cards, contact information, and some form of PDA are the best ways to give and receive info. Good old-fashioned pen & paper is good to have as a back up as well. You don’t want to use your hand or a napkin to write down someone’s info.
Leave the Lampshade at Home
Even though networking events are often in bars, clubs, or other laid-back venues, that doesn’t mean you should act the party animal. It’s probably best to avoid challenging someone to a drinking game or grab the mic from the DJ and do a shout out. Remember why you’re there. Be professional but not rigid. Be social but not the Book of You. Also, dress appropriately. Your motive is expanding your professional network, not necessarily making a new love connection.
Cast a Wide Net
The more events you go to, the better. In fact, one of your goals at any event should be to find out additional events you can attend in the future. The more you go, the more you’ll feel familiar with the format and the more comfortable you’ll feel working the room. When at an event, talk to a lot of people for a short time. Unless you really have something going, move on and chat with other people. Agree to take a next step and meet a few people for a coffee. Put yourself out there, you never know who you’ll meet, but you can be sure if you stay home, you’ll most likely meet no one. Practice makes perfect.
And as an aside, a great way to expand your network is by taking advantage of any volunteer opportunities that might be available. Some good ones coming up in Washington to think about are:
- The Green Scheme on May 31st – June 1st
- Books For America which is ongoing until December 31st
- VITAS Administrative Volunteers
- Planting Peace
- ECDC Enterprise Development Group
Be sure to look up these organizations for additional details of what they need and for any other volunteer opportunities.
Follow up with a thank you (not “sent from my iPhone”)
As with a job interview, follow up by sending a quick email within a few days saying how good it was to meet them. And if your gut says it will make a difference and you have a mailing address, a handwritten thank you is always appreciated in this digital age. Mention anything memorable from your meeting, and show your enthusiasm. Maybe even invite them to your own professional network or afternoon tea. After all, the whole point of going to networking events is to network. Make the connections and make them work for you (and them.)
What people say about you when you’re NOT in the room is often times more important than what they say about you while you’re in it. And the way you carry yourself while at a networking event can determine what people say about you. So be cool, be yourself, and above all, just act like you’ve been there before. It not only reflects positively on your personal branding, but makes you look like you definitely belong with the company you keep. And that right there can be half the battle.