By Grey Lee

This post follows up on a talk I gave at the July 2013 Summer Social. The content was obtained from several resources over the years.

Mingling at events may be the most unnatural activity the human race has invented. Sure many of us are social, but “networking” adds a level of pressure to perform. It can be associated with our fear of speaking, which is apparently hardwired to be our number one fear. Thankfully, it's something that can be overcome. These tips and tricks should help you feel more in control and have the confidence to become a networking star.

Before You Arrive

  1. Grab business cards. There are many philosophies on how many to bring and when to hand them out, but you can't hand any out if you forget them. It's a good idea to carry more than you think you could ever hand out at one event.
  2. Carry a small pen or pencil so you can take notes about someone on the back of their card. You can add personal details they share while you are talking, put additional info on the back of your card for someone else, and note where you met someone. Business cards become little event notebooks when you have a pen handy.
  3. Think about why you are attending the event, beyond the official event reason. Are you looking to meet particular people? Would you like to learn something? Be ready to talk about this or work towards that goal.
  4. Arrange to meet someone you know in advance. Even if you have never met in person. You don't have to stick together, but it's a good way to break up nerves if you know at least one person you can talk to.
  5. What is your elevator speech? Be prepared to have a 30 second talk on who you are. 
  6. Be able to answer questions about where you work and what you do like “How large is Acme?” “What are you working on?” “What services does Acme provide?” “Where do they do business?” and “What markets are you in?” A personal favorite is “Are you [the firm] busy?” Everyone seems to be asking that question these days. Be sure your answer reflects positively on your situation.

Personal Appearance

It should go without saying that you should show up well-groomed and clean to any professional event. There are, however, some little things you may not remember.

  1. Wear a jacket with pockets so you can carry your business cards and reach them easily with one hand. You don't want to fumble around trying to find your cards, handing others your drink, or worse, dropping it. It's easiest to grab in the waist pocket or opposite breast pocket of your dominant hand.  To the women who don't wear jackets, you can also carry a small wristlet; but be sure you are not fumbling. I carry mine around my left wrist.
  2. Put your name tag on the right. Typically people place the name tag on the left, but if you put it on the right when you shake hands the other person is looking right towards it. It makes it easier for them to remember your name. Tip offered by Kate DeWolf from Hanscom AFB.
  3. Carry food in one hand and only carry what you can balance easily. If you are also carrying a drink, place it on the plate and hold a napkin under it. If the food is being eaten with utensils, put your fork under your thumb and hold everything in your left hand so you can freely eat with your right. If it's finger food, you may wish to carry it in your right and eat with your left. This way you can swap hands and shake being assured your hand is clean even if you are constantly wiping it.
  4. Employ the sweaty hand trick: Carry your glass of ice cubes wrapped with a napkin in your right hand. The napkin(s) keep it dry and the ice keeps it cool. Then you don't have to worry about shaking hands. 
  5. Smile even when you don't feel like it or you don't have a natrual “resting smile” face. This helps you appear approachable and friendly. Tip offered by member Suzanne Abbott of Chapter Sponsor Vidaris.
  6. Keep body language of circle open to allow others to walk up. When you are facing each other directly, then no one can join in the conversation. Tip offered by member Steven Wychorski.  

Actually Talking to People
This is probably the most difficult part of any mingling activity. You've just walked up to someone and may know nothing about them. You've got to get and keep a conversation going.

  1. Introduce yourself with a little information. Don't just say your name; add who you work for, what your do or why you are here. Note that you want to introduce yourself first before interjecting. It can be considered rude to comment on someone else's conversation out of the blue.
  2. Use first names repeatedly so you will remember them. When someone introduces themselves, repeat their first name back immediately. The easiest way to do this is “Nice to meet you, Tom.” Then, use their name again shortly thereafter. “What projects are you working on right now, Tom?” It is OK if you have met someone before to ask their name again. You want to remember, but most people are aware that networking events are a bit of overload and it's difficult to remember names for many of us. It can take a few times meeting someone before you remember who they are.
  3. Strive for a 50/50 split in who is talking. You don't want to dominate the conversation. Keep your responses “Reader's Digest” length – good information in a short amount of words, and end your responses with questions.
  4. Ask questions that are open ended. “Do you like working at Acme?” is not the same as “What is Acme working on right now?” People generally like to talk about themselves once they get going.
  5. Don't talk to your peers. Engage with others and avoid “talking shop” with folks you see all the time. You can't expand your network if you only speak with people you already know. Tip offered by Kathy Arthur of Chapter Sponsor NStar.
  6. Enlarge the group if there are only two of you. Draw in nearby free-floaters. This not only gets you to talk to more people, but shows leadership.
  7. Play host by offering to get them a drink or take someone's plate. Introduce people to each other.
  8. Talk to the lonely. When you see someone sitting by themselves, go up and say hello. They may be shy or feel out of place, so make them feel welcome. If we mentor each other then everyone moves up. Tip offered by Chapter Executive Director, Grey Lee.
  9. Exchange business cards and comment on them. There is no reason to wait until the end of a conversation to ask, and they can provide a means of carrying the conversation along. “Has your office always been in Needham?” “This is a nice card/logo, do you know who designed it?” etc.
  10. Work in a “Figure 8” with a partner. Start in the center of the room, they take one corner and you take the other in a loop. When you are done with your half of the “8”, meet back in the middle. There you can exchange stories and get moral support. When done with the first Figure 8, split up again and do the same with the other half of the room.
  11. Avoid hostage situations. Most of us have been in that conversation we can't get out of or where we feel like we are hanging on. Test to see if your counterpart is restless with a question like “Who else do you know here?” If they are not restless they will tell you and may even introduce you. If they are, it gives them the chance to say they need to go find someone. Move away from the conversation with “I really should try to find Bob.” “I'm going to get rid of this plate/get more food.” and then find someone else.

    Hopefully you find these tips helpful for your next networking event. With practice, you will become more comfortable in these environments. Try gatherings that are low-pressure to work on your skills so you are ready for important events.

    The USGBC MA Chapter has a monthly event specifically for networking almost every month, and tons of events all the time. If you haven't already done so, please sign up for our mailing list so you can stay informed of what is happening. We are a fun and welcoming group of people so please come by! Don't believe me? Check out the photos from last night's event: USGBC MA Chapter Summer Social 2013-07-16.

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