It’s a new year and time to expand your horizons, right? How? Attend a networking event alone where you don’t know anybody! Sound stimulating or terrifying? Well, that’s just what I did this morning – a breakfast networking event sponsored by a convention bureau at a downtown nightclub venue. The two-hour event included a hearty brunch buffet, mimosas, coffee, and a sampling of the club’s musical entertainment. Different from most events I attend – I was intrigued by how people navigated it.
As you might expect, the event was heavily attended by hospitality, restaurant and convention suppliers – a fairly young and mostly fashion-forward female crowd of about 130 people. Here’s what I noticed the best networkers were doing:
Keys to networking a large crowd when you’re alone
- Wear something upbeat and professional that you feel great in.
- Bring out the actor in you and smile, stand straight and look confident even if you aren’t
- Avoid the alcoholic choice, especially at 8 AM in the morning!
- Even though food abounds, don’t get encumbered by large plates and drinks. Select a small plate with easy-to-eat food.
- Don’t stay with the group you work with and came with, especially if you were funded to attend with company dollars.
- Use the food line for networking too; it’s not wasted time!
- Ask questions of your conversation partner first.
- If you have information that will help your conversation partner, provide it ASAP
- Find a way to link what you do to what the person you’re meeting does.
- Return to the buffet or bar to meet new people.
- Be ready to provide a 30-second statement of how you connect to the event – your common ground.
One networker who impressed me was a young painting contractor named Paul who specialized in murals. As several of us stood around a high cocktail table munching brunch, Paul walked up and introduced himself with a bright smile. Now his business didn’t necessarily fit the hospitality draw of the event, but you’d never know it. After introductions, he stated clearly his specialty (painting and murals) and one woman immediately asked for his card.
When he spoke with me, I admired his ability to ask questions about my work as opposed to talking about his. He asked how I connected with clients and if I was on Linked In. When I said I was, he suggested an online resource that gives tips on Linked In connections in 20 minutes – for free. Even though Paul and I “didn’t fit” the demographics of the general crowd, we were able to share valuable information. I then gave him the name of my realtor who refers painting contractors. We both promptly wrote these resources on our cards.
During my conversation with Paul I noted that the four at our table were all staff members of the convention bureau sponsoring the event – the very people who should have been mixing and mingling! I wondered what the boss would think if she knew her marketing dollars for four employees were being spent this way.
I have long believed in the “Ya Never Know” theory – that no matter where you go, the right people are in the room, somewhere. Thank you, Paul, for proving my theory to be true!