Networking for Beginners

Navigate a Roomful of Strangers in Five Easy Steps

Whether success for you means leaving a networking event with several new business contacts — or just leaving with your dignity intact — here are a few basic steps to get you started. And while these steps are geared toward networking, feel free to use them at any awkward social gathering.

Step One: Show up late.

If you equate “networking event” with “business meeting,” you’re approaching it with the wrong mind-set. It’s more like a party — yes, even if your boss makes you go. And like parties, networking events are less intimidating if the guests have had at least one drink. Plan your arrival accordingly.

Step Two: Scope out the scene.

Says a Hollywood friend of mine, “Don’t make a move until you’ve circled your prey.” Translation for non-A-listers? Don’t feel pressure to jump into a conversation right away. Instead, take a slow walk around the perimeter of the room to scope out the scene. This allows you to get your bearings and see who’s there. End this circling at the bar so your wandering appears purposeful, rather than just crazy

Step Three: Get a drink.

It doesn’t have to be an alcohol. But if it is, remember that in business, nothing good happens after 10 p.m. or three drinks. (I can’t credit this sage piece of advice, because I can’t remember who said it. Probably because I’d had more than three drinks.)

Step Four: Say something, anything!

The bad news: Networking events will bring out the insecure 13-year-old in you. The good news: in you … and everyone else. This means people — especially people standing alone — will be so grateful you’re saving them from “standing around like a loser with no friends” that you could talk about the weather and have a rapt audience.

Step Five: Leave them wanting more.

Handle yourself like you would (or should) on a first date. This means keeping things light and fun. Your goal is just to get to know a person, not sell her on a fruitful, long-term commitment. And don’t cling — even great conversations shouldn’t last more than about 10 minutes. If there is mutual interest, you can always see each other again.

Note: This is part one of an ongoing series on networking and we’d love to hear from you: What do YOU struggle with when it comes to networking? And for you pros out there, what’s your best tip?  

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5 replies
  1. Garrick Smith says:

    Great suggestions here. Something that I have had success with is to have a few things chambered prior to the event. For example, scan the front page of your local newspaper, pull a few talking points from a good book you’re reading and always scan the sports page for recent scores. As long as you keep it non-confrontational, you will be viewed as informed and interesting. You can pretty much hang with anyone after that.

    I think I would change STEP 4 to: BE INTERESTING and INTERESTED. I know this will add to most peoples anxiety who are already. If people think you are interesting, they’ll remember you and the conversation.

  2. Anna Goldsmith says:

    Great advice, Garrick. I’m working on another piece called “how to talk to strangers” and scanning the news will definitely be in there — and even for people (like me) who hate sports, it’s not a bad idea to at least know who is playing … or, I guess just be able to joke about the fact that you don’t … which would probably fall into the INTERESTING category. Speaking of, I think in general people are too afraid of humor. And there is A LOT to laugh at … especially in a roomful of strangers. Sorry, I mean laugh WITH.

    Thanks for writing!

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