How to Network at Events | The Beginner's Guide
No matter what stage you’re at, having a broad professional network is a huge asset to your career.
The people in your network are often key to accessing new job openings, keeping you informed of the latest industry trends and introducing you to mentors and other professional development opportunities.
These days you can grow your professional network without ever leaving the house, as platforms like LinkedIn allow you to connect and interact with professionals all over the world by simply clicking a few buttons.
However, we’re a firm believer in the value of actually putting your physical self out there. There’s still something to be said for face-to-face events as striking up a connection with someone in person can leave a more lasting effect than chatting online.
If you’re new to these kinds of events, the first few can be quite stressful, but the more you put into them the more you'll get back in return.
Follow our beginner’s guide to networking at events, conferences, and exhibitions, and get much more out of your next networking opportunity than some free wine and cheese.
Before you attend
Pre-event prep is an important part of networking. Feeling organised beforehand can help put you at ease and better able to present the most confident version of yourself.
Set yourself goals
Before you go to the event, ask yourself what you want to get out of it. Are you looking for new job opportunities? Or are you on the hunt for a mentor? Perhaps you’re looking to make new connections to gain new clients or partnerships.
This will help you focus on the type of people you want to talk to and give you a good starting ground for topics of conversation and questions to ask.
Plan your outfit
You should read up on the event beforehand to see if there’s a dress code so you can dress appropriately. You’ll probably find business-casual will be OK for most events but it’s always good to check - you don’t want to turn up and feel awkward if everyone is dressed differently to you.
Make sure you choose something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to go overboard with the outfit you pick. If you’re not comfortable in what you’re wearing, you'll likely be preoccupied with worrying about how you look instead of focusing on the people you're there to meet.
Get business cards
Even if you’re hoping to get a new job out of networking, it’s not really appropriate to start dishing out your CV at an event - unless it's a dedicated job fair. Business cards are a much easier and more professional way to pass on your contact details.
If you don’t have them already, get a stack printed and always take more than you’ll need to avoid running out.
Store them in an easily accessible pocket and put them back in the same place after you’ve handed one out to avoid having to awkwardly fumble for them the next time you want to give one out.
Look over the attendee list
If it’s been made public, have a look at the list of attendees so you can spot anyone you’re particularly interested in chatting to.
If you find anyone that you’d really like to meet, look them up on LinkedIn before the event. Make some notes of the types of posts they share so you can brush up on topics that may be of interest to them. It’s also worthwhile to do some research on the company they work for - especially if you’re on the lookout for new job opportunities.
Create your introduction
Come up with a short introductory speech that describes who you are and what you do. The key is keeping it short and to the point as you don’t want to bombard new connections with your entire career history as soon as you meet them.
Here are some examples to get you started:
“I’m (your name), I’ve been in (your industry) for about (number) years and I’m currently a (job title) at (company). Right now I’m working on (one or two words describing a project or task you enjoy at work), which is great because (briefly state why you love it).”
“I’m (your name), I’m a recent graduate in (your course). I’m looking to get some experience in (the industry/sector you want to work in) to develop my skills. My goal is to work towards becoming a (your dream job).”
Preparing introductions like these keeps things brief so you won’t be tempted to ramble on, but also delivers some key information about you whilst still allowing you plenty to expand on as the conversation progresses.
At the event
Even if you’ve done all your prep beforehand, it’s still natural to get nervous in these situations. Try to remember that you won’t be the only one. Not everyone who attends these events is an ultra-confident extrovert, so try to relax and make yourself approachable.
Remember to smile
Nerves can make our bodies tense up. Calm yourself down with some deep breathing before you go in, relax your face and smile as you enter the room.
This has the effect of making you look confident, friendly, approachable and definitely someone other people will want to chat to.
If you find yourself struggling to smile naturally, try imagining you’re about to see an old friend or relative that you haven't seen in a while. Think about how you’d feel if they walked in the door and let that happiness show in your smile.
Ask questions if the conversation doesn’t flow
You’ve done your introductions perfectly but suddenly the conversation peters out. You start to panic and wonder if you can somehow scuttle off without the other person noticing. That's OK, we’ve all been here and you can easily remedy the situation with a few well-placed questions.
Here are some good examples to break the awkwardness:
- How did you get started in (their industry)?
- I’m really interested in (their industry), can you tell me more about what your company does?
- I’m really impressed with how (their company) works, what’s the thing you enjoy most about working there?
- Have you been to many of these events before?
- How are you enjoying the event so far?
- This is my first time at an event like this, is there a particular session I shouldn't miss?
- I’m not familiar with the area, can you recommend anywhere good to eat after the event?
If your mind goes completely blank, you can always throw in a compliment about an item of clothing or accessory they’re wearing. For example, ‘I really love that handbag, where is it from?’
If the conversation still doesn’t flow after one or two questions, just accept that it wasn’t meant to be, politely excuse yourself on the pretext of getting another drink or something to eat, and move on to chat to someone else.
Actively listen and take note of what people say
A common networking faux pas is focusing so much on what you’re going to say next that you don’t listen to the other person and totally lose track of the conversation.
Try not to let your mind wander too much and really concentrate on what people are saying. This way you’ll pick up things that you have in common with your new connections and in time you’ll find it easier to chat naturally.
Make a mental note of anything of particular interest that you could use to follow-up on after the event and every so often take some time to yourself to jot down your notes on the back of the person’s business card so you can keep track of who’s who.
Move around the room
To get the most interaction out of an event, you should avoid staying in one area too long. If you settle yourself in at a table alone it may put people off approaching you as they may think you want time to yourself.
Instead, circulate around the room and talk to as many different groups as you can. Remember it is absolutely OK to politely excuse yourself from a group or individual at these events; no one will expect you to spend the entire event talking to them, and you can always follow up later.
Don’t overindulge on the freebies
Most professional events will lay on a bit of a spread and while it’s fine to enjoy a few freebies, be careful not to overdo it.
A glass of wine or two might settle your initial nerves but too many can cause even the most introverted of us to get a bit OTT. We’re sure you know your own limits when it comes to drinking, so set yourself a limit so you don’t become the most-talked-about attendee for all the wrong reasons.
Follow up after the event
If the event has gone well, you should find yourself with a few promising new contacts. Don’t sit back and wait for the other person to get in contact with you, be brave and make the first move to continue your connection.
A great way to do this is to send a short follow-up email a few days after the event. Use the notes you made to personalise each email by mentioning something you discussed at the event. For example:
It was really great to meet you at the (event name) on (date) and I enjoyed our chat about (a topic you discussed). I found your insights very interesting and they have inspired me to research (the topic) further.
It would be great to keep in touch and if you would like any further information on (something you can help them with), then please let me know.
Let people get back to you in their own time and don’t take it to heart if you don’t hear from them again - some people may just be too busy or they may not be the right person for you to connect with.
Don’t let this put you off - sometimes professional relationships just don’t work out and that’s OK. Just keep trying as the more opportunities for networking you take, the more confident you’ll become.