MAKING A CONNECTION – Tips & Tricks for In-Person Networking

For most sales professionals, networking is an essential part of acquiring new customers and generating new business, but for many the thought of striking up a conversation with a complete stranger can be intimidating or uncomfortable. For others, it’s a natural skill and an essential part of their position.

Since co-founding my tech startup in 2017 I’ve attended hundreds of events and met thousands of people, in fact, as I write this column, I’m on a plane, en route to Frisco, Texas for a golf industry event that has a networking component to it.

The following are some of the things I’ve learned over the past seven years that can help make you a better networker and help you build meaningful and productive relationships with the people that you meet at these events after all that is why we go to them. 

Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Ask open-ended questions that facilitate conversation. Remember that networking is about building relationships, not just making contacts.  Remember that you’re not just restricted to asking about their profession; you can also ask about their interests and adventures. During in-person networking events, curiosity promotes more fruitful interactions that eventually result in memorable interactions and lasting friendships.

Be approachable, your body language is super important in a networking setting. No one wants to talk to someone that looks miserable and is putting out bad vibes. Smile! It might sound obvious but slap a smile on and look like you’re happy to be there. They don’t that you have been to ten other events this month or are suffering from jet lag and they shouldn’t.  Having said that, be natural and be authentically happy and not fake. It’s pretty easy to tell when people are acting as opposed to reacting, so keep it genuine.

At many networking events there is often a bar, having a beer or a cocktail can help take off the edge and is pretty commonplace at these events. On the flip side, you’re not in college at a dorm party, you are at a business event in a professional setting so know your limits. There is nothing worse than bumping into someone who’s had one too many and is clearly inebriated. If you ever run into this scenario, say it was nice to meet you and bolt for the bathroom or opposite side of the room as nothing productive or meaningful is going to happen from that conversation or interaction.

Look the part, your appearance is important. Now I’m not saying you need to be dressed to the nines or be red carpet camera-ready, but you want to look professional but dress comfortably not the time for that uncomfortable dress shirt as that is the last thing you want to be thinking about. Plus, you don’t want to look like you rolled out of bed and didn’t have time to brush your hair, not that I have that problem.  If you want to stand a lot and move around, I will also recommend that you invest in comfy shoes for your feet.  A first impression is so important in a networking setting when oftentimes you only get a few minutes to chat with someone before moving on to another conversation so make it count.

Your hygiene is also an important aspect of networking, often you’re in tight quarters filled with a lot of people having face-to-face conversations so if your smell is less than appealing it’s very off-putting.  So maybe rethink the cigarette before heading into the room or going too heavy on the cologne.  That goes for your breath too, I can think of at least a dozen times over the past seven years when I met someone at an event and instantly regretted firing up a conversation because their breath was so bad. Brushing your teeth before attending an event seems like the advice a parent would give to a ten-year-old, but I’ve run into this enough times that it’s worth mentioning. Carrying around breath mints or strips or maybe some gum is also a good idea to help ensure your breath is fresh and that you are pleasant to speak with just make sure you are not chomping on it like you are playing second base for the Blue Jays.

Eating while networking. This one is an acquired skill. The key to not wearing it is to keep the portions small, it’s not a buffet even if it is, and watch the garlic.  No one loves hors d’oeuvre more than me but keep it light and you can hit the drive-thru on the way home after the event.

Last, but not least make sure that you take the time to follow up with the individuals you meet, especially if you had a conversation with them as it will leave a lasting impression.  Nothing like a nice email to say that you enjoyed meeting them in person.

by Kris McCarthy