Navigating Large Networking Events

by Lyle Katz

Many people are intimidated by large networking events that may have up to 100 people or sometimes more. It’s uncomfortable for people to walk into a situation like that and start making conversation with strangers. It may appear overwhelming at first, but with the right preparation and some planning, you can learn to love attending events like this. This month’s article will discuss the top three strategies for navigating large networking events. They are: Setting goals, Bring a friend and Don’t talk about yourself.

1. Setting goals: Some people try to attend a networking event and pick up as many business cards as they can and consider that a success. I disagree. The important concept to remember is that you are looking to meet good networking partners, not clients. People do business with someone they know and trust. Look for people you want to have around you – people you like and can count on to be a good networking partner. Additionally, the people you meet will usually fall into one of three categories: A Center of Influence, a Connector, or a Hidden Gem. I discussed this in greater detail in my previous article, “Finding value in all of the people you meet.” With that in mind, if you can meet two or three good people at an event, then that is a success.

2. Bring a Friend: It can be quite daunting to walk into a room with 100 people that you don’t know and many of the people already appear to be engaged in conversations and having a great time. Many will feel uncomfortable breaking into conversations of others.  A simple solution to this is to bring a friend. That way, you immediately have a networking partner and people will see the two of you happily engaged in conversation with each other. That will cause other people to want to come over to meet you. People at large events gravitate to the people that appear to be the center of attention and having the most fun.  With two of you at the event, you are likely to find somebody that one of you knows. Bring that person over and introduce them to your friend. Now, you have three people engaged and having a great time. A great way to demonstrate your networking value to others immediately is to introduce them to people they want to know. Try to make introductions between people you know and people you don’t know that would benefit from the connection.

3. It’s Not About You: Many people at networking events introduce themselves and immediately start selling. They describe who they are, what they do and whom they want to meet. Don’t be that person. Networking is about helping other people. When you meet people try not to speak about yourself for as long as possible. Instead, focus on the person you just met. Also, try not to talk about business immediately. Engage in small talk. A great way to start the conversation is to ask the other person how they heard about the event. It’s a great icebreaker and people always have an interesting story to tell. There are many techniques and tips for initiating casual conversations and this is just one. A good strategy to use is called Tick and Click. Use your empathy to figure out what makes other people tick and then adjust your own style and approach to click with them. Eventually, when you do this right, the people will get so tired of talking about themselves, they will beg to learn about you. This is a good thing because this means they are probably very happy with you because you just spoke with them about their favorite topic. A great way to end a conversation with somebody you just met is to say, “Please let me know what types of people you consider good referrals or referral sources so I can listen for potential connections for you as I meet new people.”

Networking is also a filtering process. If you spend time talking about the other person and they show no interest in you, that’s fine as well. This behavior shows that they will probably not be a good networking partner and you should move on to find better connections. Another great filtering strategy is not to offer your business card unless the other person asks for it. This may sound counter-intuitive to the common wisdom that tells you to give you business card to everybody you meet. I think it’s a great test to see if the people you meet are truly interested in connecting with you. You can always ask people for their business cards but see what happens if you wait to see who asks for yours.

In summary, with a little preparation and some strategy you will find yourself easily meeting people at large events and making great connections with excellent networkers like yourself. It’s always important to manage your expectations and to appreciate minor advancements and improvements in your networking efforts.  Big changes take time and involve hard work. But remember, the hard work pays off in the end.

Try some of these strategies and report your experiences back here on the Savvy Ladies blog. Also, if you have other great tips to break the ice at networking events, let me know. I’d love to share them.

Learn more about this and other networking topics at my Art of Networking seminars. Join the mailing list to find out about future events.

Lyle Katz is a seasoned financial executive with over 20 years of experience, most recently with Viacom Inc., serving in several leadership positions with increasing responsibilities. He has expertise in all aspects of corporate finance including risk management, asset management, debt management and global cash management. During his long career in Finance, Lyle has developed a proven track record of improving financial stability. He is a creative thinker with experience discovering and analyzing complex problems while developing and implementing solutions that affect finance, tax and accounting. Lyle is an MBA graduate of Fordham University.

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