I was recently invited to attend a local chamber networking event with a salesperson friend who just started in a new role. I think I make a pretty great wingman, so I agreed to go along.

Networking events can be a terrific way for you to market your facility, your group events program and your brand in general.  There are few other places where you can meet 20 potential leads in a short amount of time. But like anything else, your results at a networking event are only as good as the effort you put into it. 

My friend and I arrived at the event and put on our nametags, and then I spent the next hour observing networking techniques of the sales folks in attendance. Based on these observations, I came up with a list of things to do – and not do –  at your next networking event.

1. Put Your Best Face Forward

For me personally, I like to start with a little lipstick. I tend to be shy at first and am much more likely to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation if I look (and therefore feel) my best; hence, lipstick. The point here is that whether you need to get all dressed up, listen to your favorite song on the way to the event, do a power pose or give yourself a quick pep talk before walking in, do what it takes to make you feel confident. Chances are, even if you do feel shy underneath, no one will know you’re faking it.

2. Keep it Classy

Don’t ever be the drunkest person at the party. Most of us have made the mistake of overindulging at one point or another, so there’s certainly no judgment here, but at a networking function, the results of drinking too much can be catastrophic.  At best, you might forget some details about the contacts you met or will forget to follow up like you promised, and at worst you could behave in a way that damages not only your own business image, but your company’s as well. The best solution? Impose a two-drink maximum, and save the hardcore partying for your own time.

3. Be a Social Butterfly (Even if You’re Faking it)

At the networking event I attended, my friend stayed glued to my side the entire time we were there. I tried giving him pointers on making introductions, which I know can be hard, but it’s important to overcome this fear if you want to succeed at networking. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Realize that you’re a great person with a great product. Who wouldn’t want to know you?
  • Remember that everyone in the room is there for the same reason you are, so they’re in no position to judge you.
  • A genuine smile and a sincere compliment go a long way to breaking the ice.
  • The worst thing a person can do is end the conversation quickly and move on – and if they do that, they weren’t worth talking to anyway.
  • Try giving yourself incentives and rewards. For example, I like to promise that if I talk to at least 10 people, I will treat myself to a nice dinner out. If I bump it to 15 new people, I’ll even order dessert.
  • Come to the event prepared with a list of topics to discuss. Obviously, you’d be wise to avoid controversial items like politics, and also skip banalities like the weather. Aim to discuss items of relevance that will get your new friend talking – and then just go where the conversation takes you.

4. Show an Interest

Here’s a little known yet completely obvious truth: people like to talk about themselves. Don’t torpedo every interaction you have with the intention of figuring out what that person can do for you. Networking events are meant to build new relationships, which go both ways. During every conversation, you should be thinking about how you can help others meet their goals, rather than focusing on how they can help you meet yours. Ask a lot of questions, and always aim to listen more than you speak.

5. Don’t Act Desperate

At the risk of sounding like dating advice, my last point involves the “D” word – desperation. Human nature encourages people to want what they can’t have, and to be wary of anyone who comes across as being too needy, meaning salespeople should be hungry but not starving.  Obviously, quotas need to be met and bills need to be paid, but you should avoid thinking too much about those factors and should instead concentrate on the people you meet.

When you’re networking, try to stay in the moment to be your best self at the event, asking questions and getting to know the people around you while allowing conversations and tangents to flow naturally. It’s not necessarily about selling every aspect of your business – it’s about selling yourself as a worthwhile new contact.  One of my favorite quotes goes like this: “Worrying won’t take away tomorrow’s problems. But it will take away today’s peace.” Focus on the present moment, paste a smile on your face, fake a little bit of confidence, and then watch the contacts fall into your lap.

How do you handle networking events? Tell us in the comments, or let us know on Twitter.

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