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Your first networking event can be nerve-wracking and awkward. And unless you’ve prepared well in advance, your first instinct will probably be to flee. However, if you are job hunting or trying to grow your business, attending networking events is one of the best ways to establish valuable and lasting contacts. The more individuals you meet and talk to, the more the opportunities that will come your way. So how do you introduce yourself? What are the ways to start a conversation with strangers? How can you keep the conversation alive?
Don’t worry. We’ll tell you some easy ways to start a conversation at a networking event and make an excellent first impression. And, most importantly, we`ll share some tips to make sure you are memorable even after the occasion.
Where Can You Start Networking?
To find the right people to network with, you should know the type of events going on around you and choose the ones you think would be beneficial. Such events provide opportunities to network with different kinds of people and can even help you find jobs that are not advertised online. Examples include:
- Job fairs: for companies to find new potential hires;
- Professional conferences;
- Trade fairs;
- Students & alumni events;
- Professional association programs.
How to Find a Networking Event?
Now that you are aware of the kinds of events you should be attending, the next question is, how can you find them? You have to keep your ears and eyes open as these opportunities can pop up from places that you least expect. One way to find these events is by talking to friends or colleagues. Ask your friends and co-workers about professional fairs or conferences they are planning to go to or have already attended. You could also get good recommendations from your career mentor. Other ways include:
- Visiting networking websites, e.g., Eventbrite, Eventful, and Meetup;
- Subscribing to email newsletters and following relevant organizations on social media;
- Join affinity or alumni organizations in your college;
- Visit local community establishments.
What to Start With?
Become the Icebreaker
Once you identify an event you want to go to, you should use the days leading up to it to practice starting conversations. Begin by creating a great elevator pitch. It should essentially summarize who you are professional-wise. Practice opening a conversation until you can say it smoothly naturally. Go through the day’s agenda if it’s a workshop or conference. Also, do some research on the companies/ employers that will be in attendance to investigate more about the people you will be interacting with at the event.
Arrive on time for the event so that you familiarize yourself with the venture. You can volunteer to register or welcome attendees if the chance presents itself (don`t forget to register for these roles in advance). That way, you can mingle with people as they come. A different way to dive into networking is to start a conversation with individuals who are by themselves and work your way to groups.
How to Introduce Yourself to Others?
To start conversation, you must first introduce yourself. The manner you talk about yourself is key to making a fantastic first impression. So, smile, make eye contact and offer your hand as you say who you are. Start with something along the lines of:
“Hi, I’m (your official names) and I (say what you do). I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Also, prepare a proper response when another attendee greets you. Make sure you are polite and brief.
How to Shake Hands?
It is important to extend a formal/ business-like handshake when greeting someone at a networking event. Offer your right hand and shake the other person’s hand firmly – but not too tightly – for a few seconds. If you are nervous and sweat a lot, clean and wipe your hands before you greet anyone.
How to Start a Conversation After Introducing Yourself?
Once you’ve made your introduction, you have to figure out some pick-up lines to kick-start the conversation. There are many ways to start a conversation. You could, for example, say something about the venue or organization hosting the event. Alternatively, you could talk about other events, similar to the current one that you have attended in the past. If it’s an industry-specific event, the best way to start a conversation is to highlight new developments and trends in the field.
How to Keep the Conversation Flowing?
To involve another person in the discussion and keep it flowing smoothly, you can ask a few questions. For instance:
- Are you a regular at these events, or is it your first time?
- What are some valuable sessions you’ve attended here?
- What are your thoughts on the program this far?
- What’s your opinion about the keynote speaker?
How to Exit Conversations Naturally?
Remember that you will have limited time to talk with people and should, therefore, not stay in one conversation for too long. So, just as you’ll need good ways to start a conversation, you have also to prepare some good closing statements. If you talk to someone you deem valuable, exchange contact information (e.g., LinkedIn, email, or Social Media) with them. It’s always good to have some business cards too. If you are at a job fair, carry some professional resume copies to hand out to potential employers.
How to Plan a Follow Up?
To build a strong connection with new networks, you can plan a follow-up meeting. For example, if you are both interested in visiting an upcoming event, you can suggest that you go together. You could reach out to them through the contact information shared with you and suggest a meet-up later on.
Most importantly, remember the more you network, the better you become at it. The first time you introduce yourself may feel uncomfortable, but by the fifth or tenth time, you’ll get much better. So, network with people even when it’s not necessary by attending these gigs as a way to practice.
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