On Monday, we published “How to: Network at a Trade Show Part 1” and talked about what you should do before a networking event. Part 2 is all about what to do during the event.
During the Event
Locate the source of food/drink. Obtain a beverage and sip slowly. You don’t want to make multiple trips to the bathroom when you’re in the middle of a conversation.
Be a host. Go in with the attitude of being a good host. A good host ensures that his/her guests are comfortable. You may not be the official host, but you can do little things to make new acquaintances feel more comfortable. For example, if someone looks shy and out of his/her element, introduce yourself. You may be feeling out of your element too, but if you put on your “host” hat, you will feel your shyness slip away when you see someone who’s clearly more uncomfortable than you.
Talk to people. This one is an obvious one, but the list wouldn’t be complete without it. You could ask them if they’re from out of town, what company they’re with, how they’re enjoying the event so far, etc., as icebreakers.
Talk to people who are not your colleagues. If you’re going to a networking event with one or more colleagues, make sure that you spend time networking without them. This is really difficult to do because we all tend to want to talk to people we already know and like. You will see them on Monday, when you get back to the office. Don’t waste this opportunity to talk to potential clients or other people you wouldn’t normally see.
Keep your business cards in one pocket and keep your new acquaintance’s business cards in another pocket. Read both sides of their card before putting it away. The first tip is so you don’t get them mixed up. The second tip is so that your conversational partner can see that you’re treating their card with respect AND you’re now able to start a conversation with them based on their card. “Oh, you work for _______? My cousin works for them too; she’s in business development.”
Include people in your conversation. We’ve all been there, where we are standing there awkwardly just outside a group, waiting for an opportunity to join a conversation. If you see someone hovering beside you as you’re speaking with someone else, turn your body slightly towards them and say “hello”. Shake their hand, introduce yourself and either introduce your conversational partner(s) or wait for them to introduce themselves.
Remove yourself from the conversation gracefully. This one is really tricky. How do you gracefully stop talking to someone who can’t stop talking? Or, perhaps you’re both doing the awkward dance of “How do I end this politely?”. This one could be an entire blog post by itself.
When you’re ready to leave a conversation, you can say, as soon as there’s a pause, “Thanks for telling me about __________. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.” As you say this, put your hand out for a handshake, shake his/her hand and take your leave.
If that feels too direct, you can also wait for a pause in the conversation, smile, and say, “Thanks for telling me about _____________. I’m going to go check in with my colleague/boss to see how he/she’s doing.” followed by a “It’s been a pleasure to meet you. I’d love to follow up with you later about _________________. May I have your business card? Thanks. I hope you enjoy the rest of the (name of event).”
If you didn’t come with a colleague, you can smile and say, “I just saw one of my vendors/clients and I need to check in with him/her about __(insert small problem/issue)__ before I forget. (Insert possible joke about being forgetful/age making you forgetful.) Please excuse me.”
If you use either of these two lines, you need to go find the people you said you’re going to find. Otherwise, you’ll feel awkward and your conversational partner will also feel awkward.
Another easy way to take your leave is to include someone new who has been standing in the periphery of your conversation (as per the previous tip), introduce yourself to them, listen to them talk for a few minutes and then excuse yourself by smiling and saying “It’s been a pleasure to meet both of you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Play matchmaker (if you can). If you meet someone who is there because they’re looking for something to solve problem A, and you just met someone who sells product A, introduce them. If you’re able to do this a few times, people will start saying “(your name) knows everyone here. He’s really connected in the industry.” and your reputation will grow.
That’s it for today. Check back in on Friday for our last post of this series: “Part 3: After the Event”.