Networking 101: how to talk to anyone

I’ve gone to more networking events in the past month than I had in the past two years. This is one thing I like about my current corporate job. I get to have my social life back. There is nothing I like more than talking about myself. I used to resist it when people told me, “You were born to do PR.” Now I’m really starting to see their point. Most people will always bring a plus-one when they go to a party or an event, but I’d rather go alone because if I’m with someone I can’t just ditch that person and go chat with strangers. I often go to a function by myself, and by the end of the night, I’d have totally assimilated myself into a group and leave with 20 new friends on my belt.

Americans tend to think Asian people are shy and timid. I guess my networking ability is one of the most un-Asian traits about me. Rome wasn’t built in one day. Although I have always been a talker, I didn’t perfect my networking skills overnight. Thanks to my education in the US where learning how to bullsh_t is a big part of the curriculum. It still took me years to learn to feel completely comfortable in any social environment, and I’d like to share a thing or two to those who is afraid go out without a wing man/woman.

1. Dress nice

I’m not telling you to wear a gown to a barbecue, but at least make yourself look smart and decent. I’d always go with dressing up if I don’t know exactly what to wear to an event. For one thing, I’m a very high maintenance girl, I just love wearing cute cocktail dresses. Find me a guy who doesn’t like to see a little cleavage. For another, everyone likes to see something pleasant and no one wants to talk to a person who’s outfit screams, “I’m homeless”. It’s also important to evaluate the nature of the occasion. I went to a college alumni event two weeks ago at a 4-star hotel at which I wore a little black dress. I got there and realized most people were in their work clothes. I think I was little too dressed up, but still appropriate. I also went to a nerdy IT conference yesterday. Since I went there after work, I wore my smart casual dress. I looked more put together than many of the guys in their t-shirts and shorts, but it was still okay. Then I saw a girl in a bridesmaid dress thingy (made with really really cheap nylon I hate to say). This is networking event, not Mark Zuckerburg’s wedding. You know what I mean.

2. Talk to the first person who smiles at you

After registration, you put on a name tag, and you’re on your own. Don’t worry, remember everyone is just like you. None everyone is insecure and needs company. There are many people who are just like me. They would talk to anyone. Put on a big smile, and as soon as you see another singleton smiling back at you, introduce yourself and say why you’re here. Even if you’re not interested in the nature of the event, you tell the truth and say you’re here to network. A little sense of humor goes a long way. Try something like, “I don’t even know why I’m here, but anywhere is better than being trapped in the office with my evil boss!”

3. Bring (more than enough) business cards

Always have your business cards with you. I put a few business cards in my wallet, my coin purse and my card holders, just in case I run out and forget to refill. When people don’t know what to say, they always talk about their jobs. Every time I exchange business cards with someone, they always ask me what my company does and what my job involves. One topic will lead to another. In no time you will be exchanging family histories. So next time you don’t know what to say, ask the other person what his company does.

4.  Ask the person to introduce you to others

Once you feel comfortable with your new wing man, you can tell him you’re totally new at this and would like meet more people. He can introduce you to anyone he knows, just anyone that he recognizes. Soon enough you’ll have formed your own clique.

5. Excuse yourself if you have to move on

You don’t have to stick with the same people the entire time. It’s perfectly understood that at networking event you can feel free to walk around and meet as many people as you can. Say, “Excuse me, but I wanna say hi to someone over there.” As a gesture of courtesy, it’s best to excuse yourself if you have more than two people in your group, so the other person wouldn’t feel all weird when you walk away.

6. Approach a new group

It is also perfectly fine to join a conversation that is already in process. You quietly stand next to them with a big smile (otherwise it’d be super creepy) until one of them acknowledges your existence, and then you repeat Step 2 onwards.

By the end of every event, I’ll look at all the business cards I’ve got and try to remember who’s who. Sometimes I don’t remember everyone but it’s okay. Ninety-nine percent of the time it would be the only time you ever see that person, but there is still a one percent chance for you to have met your next investor/boss/drinking buddy/girlfriend/husband/your mom’s new boyfriend.

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About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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