How To Survive Networking Events

I love meeting people. I feel energised by it. But not everyone — in fact, quite a lot of people — don’t feel this way.

If you really don’t get energy from other people, loathe events, despise the word ‘networking’ (read: most people) — YOU ARE NORMAL. This is ok.

However.

If you are unhappy in your current role, freelance, work for yourself and need clients; are looking for some inspiration, want to meet people who are going to inspire you, push you to create better work and potentially even mentor you — you gotta get out of that cubicle / home office / agency open plan and in front of people who can help.

Sometimes that will land you at a networking event (or maybe your boss is asking you to go as the company rep). Either way, if networking events give you the shakes, here’s how to cope:

BUT I HATE 'SCHMOOZING'.

Instead of ‘schmoozing’ or 'networking' think ‘contacting’. Contacting people who might dig, understand / relate to what you do. You’re not selling anything so no reason to feel weird.

No sales, no schmoozing, no fakery — just talking to people who have similar stuff in connection with you. 

As author Susan Cain says, ‘don’t think of it as networking. Think of it as seeking out kindred spirits.’

But I won’t know anyone.

No dramas. Lots of people wont know anyone either. Ask for the facilitator / organiser — tell them you don’t know anyone and would like an introduction (it’s their job to do this, it wont be weird).

If no joy there, approach someone. Anyone. With…

  • ‘I don’t know anyone here — mind if I join you? (They’ll NEVER say no — they’re at a work function, it’s an unspoken rule)
  • ‘I’m new here — what do you do?’
  • What brings you here?’
  • ‘Networking events freak me out. I’m not the only one, right?’

Remember why you’re going in the first place. Hopefully you’ll meet someone who can inspire you, introduce you to a great company, an interesting project. A little bit of awkward is a great investment in your future — you’ll get over it pretty quick.

I DON'T WANT TO GO ALONE.

If meeting and talking to people sucks your energy, you can make it work for you by refining interactions to smaller groups of people. And for this you can take an event 'handbag'. 

A handbag is your reliable, energetic, fun and charismatic BFF. Someone who knows you well who feels comfortable talking to complete strangers. Let the handbag take the lead and your brilliance can shine when you feel like contributing to the conversation. 

The handbag is:

  • professional and puts other people at ease
  • loves to talk to random strangers
  • often works in communications, sales, new business or hospitality
  • not your partner, a date or romantically linked to you in any way
  • not an alcoholic, can handle a drink and doesn’t go crazy over the word ‘free’

If you’ve not got any immediate friends who fit the bill — you will definitely have them at work. They’re often in the communications / new business / sales department of your workplace. (If you’re in a trade or hospitality, they’re the customer service and front of house people). They’re used to talking and warming up complete strangers.

Grab your Nikki and ace that networking event.

Grab your Nikki and ace that networking event.

Ask if they’d like to come to an event you’re going to (FYI - active tense creates action) as there’ll be heaps of contacts there they might benefit meeting. New business, sales and communications people live for contacts  (that’s connections to you).

They get free drinks and you get a conversation opener. Win win.

What should I talk about?

You don’t have to shout from the rooftops to get heard — be yourself and the rest will take care of itself.

People like talking to people who:

  • LISTEN
  • are genuinely interested in what they do
  • they have stuff in common with
  • ask questions if they genuinely care about the answers
  • can help them
  • feel they can connect (eg Buzzfeed’s ethos: if people laugh with you, they connect with you’)
  • make them feel good or give them permission to be themselves.
  • are THEMSELVES.

The basic rule of thumb is pretend you’re either — at a job interview — or on a date with anyone new you meet. Present yourself, be honest — be the nicest version of yourself. What’s not to like?

I ended up in the corner talking to someone — and we have zero in common.

You have nothing in common or they are painfully dull. It happens. And chances are, the other party will be feeling it, too.

So how to escape?

Easy. Pull any of these out and you're a free agent again:

  • Top up your drink.
  • Use the bathroom. Hide in the loo for ten mins then BAM try again.
  • Secure your seat before the talk / event begins. 
  • 'I need to catch up with a colleague before I head off, so thanks for your time.'
  • 'Great to meet you. Have a great evening.' And move on. 
Ain't no shame in hiding in the car park between drinks.

Ain't no shame in hiding in the car park between drinks.

Ok. Now I’m talking to someone super interesting. What next?

Ace!

Be sure to grab their details towards the end of the conversation before they’re chatting to someone else.

(Asking for someones details at an event like this is absolutely fine — just let them know you’d love to keep in touch and ask for their card, or details.)

After the event — DO follow up. Check out their website / Twitter / LinkedIn to learn more about what they do if you’re curious. Then flick them an email, letting them know it was great to chat and to send through your details for their future reference.

If you’d like to meet with them again (and of course you’d like to because they were super interesting) perhaps ask if they’re free over the next few weeks — and suggest a few dates and times. (When people are busy, having options prompts people to commit. Also — meeting within a few weeks of meeting keeps up the momentum you created when you first met).

I’m 20 minutes in and feel exhausted.

Two things:

  • Time out — go to the bathroom, sit in the cubicle and chill out for a bit. Five mins isolation — and you’re ready to go again.
  • Pop out for a sec. Go down the lift, head outside and walk to the end of the street. Come back. Fresh air and no one has to know! [I have done both these things. Totally refreshes me].

Ok! I survived — and want to do it again. How do I find another event?

Lucky for you, people put this stuff on for a living, here’s a few ideas to find the events that might be relevant to you. I find the most efficient way to do it is to put Twitter and the e-newsletters of venues and Festivals to work:

  • Industry experts. Follow people in your industry who are at the top of what they do. They might be a head creative, marketing experts, or the head of a brand (in your area of expertise) you think are doing great things. They’re routinely asked to speak at events and part of that is sharing these events with their networks. They’ll post when an event is on they’re speaking at.
  • Idols. People who you think are ace and have absolutely nothing to do with your job. If they’re doing projects that inspire you, it’s likely they’ll be so inspiring that they’re asked to speak at an event and panel, and, like your industry experts, they’ll likely share that on Twitter / Facebook when they’re next presenting. Easy and fun.
  • Agencies who work with brands that you really admire. The people behind the scenes are the ones who are often asked to speak at events to share success stories. You can find some really interesting people who have done amazing work at events.
  • Regular scanning — search.twitter.com — with your industry, followed by location (search.twitter.com — enter hashtag industry, followed by near:location — #marketing near:sydney). Do this once a week and see what crops up.
  • Crowdsourcing: post using hashtags to your area to see what other people recommend. Example: ‘Looking for great #film events in #london — any great suggestions?’
  • Festivals — sign up to their enewsletter — they wont often push ‘networking’ events on their social but may very well share third party (other peoples) events that are related.
  • Venues: follow venues that attract the names / speakers you would like to see. Sign up for their EDM and they’ll do the scanning for you. Hooray!
  • Events as a starting point: if there’s two enewsletters I’d recommend off the bat — these guys are a great starting point: Creative Mornings / The Fetch.

More reading:

Effective marketing for Introverts (tip: schedule your bravery)

How to follow up after a networking event via Forbes

Networking for people who hate networking

30 conversation openers for networking events (sign in w LinkedIn / email to view)