Networking takes time and, even for extroverts, it can be uncomfortable to talk about yourself and your business or career. But we have good news! Making a great first impression at a networking event actually requires a lot less talking and a lot more listening.
When You Meet Someone New
If you’re new to a networking group or you meet someone new, making a good impression starts like any good first impression – a smile, eye contact, a good handshake and a clear introduction. Tell your new connection who you are, what you do and what company you work for (or own). They’ll likely do the same. At that point you have a few choices – you can talk about yourself and your work, you can prompt them to talk, you can hover awkwardly or you can walk away. If you can encourage the other person to talk first – and if you genuinely listen and ask intelligent questions – chances are good that, when you get a chance to talk about yourself and your work, they’ll listen to you too.
When You Bump Into Someone You’ve Met
This one is tricky. If you remember the person’s name (or, thank goodness, they are wearing a name tag), greet them with a nice handshake a smile. If you’re able to recall anything about your last meeting, it’s nice to be able to ask a follow-up question, especially if they could be a valuable connection. Showing them that you remember your conversation and that the information was important enough to commit to memory can make a lasting impact. If you don’t remember anything about the last time you’ve met, that’s OK. It’s better to not say anything specific than to get it wrong.
When You Join an Ongoing Conversation
If a conversation is happening between people you know or don’t know and you walk into the group, the important thing to do is listen. Take in anything you can about the conversation and then ask intelligent questions that show you were listening. When there’s a break in the conversation, you’ll have a chance to introduce yourself.
If you know you’ll freeze up, see if you can bring a +1. You can bring someone from your own company, but bringing a friend from another company can help break the ice and give you an opportunity to talk about each other in a casual way. Also, don’t overdress (it makes people uncomfortable) and don’t forget your business cards in case there’s an opportunity to hand one out.
Networking can be fun, but it can also be an important part of your business growth. You never know who people know, so value every connection you make!