By: Alisha Sedor
I recently attended a networking event at The Wing that was hosted speed-dating style: you’re paired up with the person across from you, you have 4 minutes to introduce yourselves and discuss a prompt, and then you switch! Super fast-paced, very fun, and you meet a lot of people quickly in a way that’s not awkward. But, as my first partner got up to switch places, I though in a panic, “oh no! I don’t have my business cards on me and I don’t have a notebook to write down names. How will I remember all of these women???”
Thankfully, most everyone else failed to come prepared to this event as well, so The Wing was gracious enough to connect everyone via email after the event. With the list of items/tasks below, you can come prepared for any networking opportunity that comes your way!
Even if your office doesn’t provide you with business cards, having a personal business card with your name, phone number, email, and perhaps your LinkedIn can make connecting with people really quick and easy. It’s so easy and inexpensive these days, anyone can have a beautiful business card! I really like Moo.com and Zazzle.com (unpaid endorsement, I just like them).
In addition to business cards, you may want to bring a small notebook. Depending on your conversations, there may be specific follow-up you want to make note of or ideas you’d like to jot down. Sometimes, exchanging business cards can feel unnatural as well, so if that’s the case you can always write down contact info to follow-up on later.
Bring Your Own Icebreakers
The Wing’s event was wonderfully facilitated to keep conversations moving and give people things to talk about. If the event hosts don’t provide icebreakers, though, you can come prepared with some easy conversation starters of your own! Just keep it simple and be curious about what they’re telling you; ask follow-up questions too. Some example starters might include:
So, what do you do?
What was your path to your current job?
What do you love about what you do?
What brought you to this event?
Prep Your Elevator Pitch
Have your elevator pitch ready - who are you and what’s your story in 2 mins or less. You’re coming prepped with some conversation starters, so you can bet the other attendees are as well. Think about what you’d like people at the event to know about you, your background, and what you’re up to right now. By sharing about yourself as well as having others share about themselves, you can identify potential collaborative opportunities or places you can help each other.
Know What You Want
When someone asks you, “What brought to you this event?” have your answer ready! Know what you want to get out of the event before even walking in the door. Any reason is acceptable - perhaps you’re just looking to connect with awesome people, or maybe you’re looking for a new job opportunity, or you’re launching a new business and trying to connect with folks who might make good partners or employees in the future. Whatever the reason, have a good sense of why you’re there and it will help keep your conversations on track and keep you motivated to engage.
Know Who You Want (To Talk To)
Once you know what you want and why you’re there, think about who you want to talk to and use your time wisely. If you have a very specific reason you’re looking to connect with new people, you may want to target a few specific participants. The attendee list may be shared before the event - go through it and look at the work history of those who will be there. Try to find the people you want to meet (or connect with them after the event if you don’t have a chance to catch them). Have a broader goal such as simply expanding your network? Great! You’ll probably want to keep conversations shorter and try to meet more people rather than going deeper into the conversation with just a few.
Last, but most importantly, don’t leave those relationships in the room! Take those business cards and send over an email, asking people who you want to stay in touch with for coffee to follow-up on some of the things you discussed at the event. Add your new contacts on LinkedIn with a note in your connection request (web-version only!) about how you met so that you both have a record and remember. Check in with your new contacts periodically - there’s no point in spending time at the event if you’re just going to say hello and never speak again!
Take these tips and get on out there! Your network is invaluable in so many ways, so having a robust one is a necessity in the working world. Need help preparing a plan for networking? Reach out any time!