At networking events, people will ask me what I do. My response is that I help individuals and teams to develop interpersonal and business skills by applying improv principles and exercises. Unless individuals have participated in similar training, people often have a hard time grasping how comedy can help to develop skills, so when asked, I often cite my favorite workshop: Improv(e) Your Networking where I conduct exercises to help make the most of networking events. In this week’s blog, I wanted to share a couple of my best practices on attending networking events.
Choose events that will be of interest to you. When I was part of the Young Executive Board at the Rivers Club, I received a great piece of advice as we were working with more experienced Club Members to plan events. “Networking events, especially in the evening, take people are away from their families. The event needs to help their priorities and/or personal interests.” This has stuck with me over the years as I host and attend more events. With time as my most precious commodity, I have become more selective about events. Pittsburgh Magazine’s Quarterly Women & Business Event serves as a great example to share my reasons for prioritizing an event.
- Featured Speaker with Topic of Interest: This past week, Lisa Schroeder, the new President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, shared her top lessons over her career. Many of the tips are reminders which I have heard, but the lesson to “Think big. Act Incrementally.” resonated with me as I ramp up Impactful Improv. No matter who the speaker is I know I will leave with a few golden nuggets that I can apply to improve my life and business.
- Quality Attendees: I am always open to trying out a new event. The first time I attend an event, I am not always sure what to expect. In general, I return to events where I have quality interactions. I have been to my share of events that were non-welcoming and a waste of time, but for each of the bad events, I come across many with truly genuine people. I enjoy attending events like Women & Business because I always have quality conversations with women who are genuinely interested in helping each other to build strong networks. Even if I don’t come away with a business lead, I always leave with at least 2-3 quality interactions.
- Cost: I have found there are many great low cost or free events to attend. One of the reasons I like the Pittsburgh Magazine event is the fact that half of the registration fee supports a local charity.
Be cognizant of your body language. I will go deeper into this in an upcoming blog, but overall our body language speaks volume. For example, I often stand with my arms crossed in front of me. Body language experts indicate this is subliminal sign of being closed off. My own self-reflection revealed this is simply my comfortable resting position. In fact, I am most focused on the other person when my arms are crossed, but I have learned that people can’t read my mind, so I pay attention to how I am standing at networking events. The last thing I want is to appear to be closed, especially at a networking event. To avoid this perception, the tip that has worked best for me is to always have a drink even if just a glass of water in my hand to avoid crossing my arms.
Body language can also be used to identify groups that are more approachable. When entering a room, I always look for groups of people with a more open position. Individuals who are standing with shoulders squared facing one another are generally engaged in a specific conversation. It doesn’t mean they are closed, just that they are in the middle of a specific conversation at the moment. Most people will stand in a more of a slightly v-shaped position creating a space that is more approachable. I also love the events that have standing tables as it provides a reason to share the table and nine times out of ten, the people will invite me into the conversation.
Quality not Quantity
Focus on the quality of interactions. Many people attend an event with the goal of getting the word out on what they do. I get the most out of events when I am genuinely engaged and listening. Listening helps me to adjust my value statement from the general one listed at the start of this blog to one that is more focused on the interests of the individual with whom I am speaking.
The most common question I am asked at my college workshops is “what is the worst thing I ever see someone do at networking events?” My response is when people hand me a business card at the beginning of the conversation. When someone hands me a card without talking to me first, the conversation is generally them briefly giving me their pitch and then moving on to the next conversation without really listening to me. Those cards always go straight to the trash at the end of the event. One thing I have noticed is when you have a genuine conversation, people will ask for your business card or if it is an interesting conversation, I will ask for their card or offer mine to continue the conversation. In fact, I was recently at an event where I thought someone was interested, but when I offered my card, they changed the subject. No problem, it was a great conversation and I had 3 people circle back with me that same evening just to get my card.
Conversations can be shorter during a networking event and sometimes may only have a single conversation during the event. It is not about the quantity but the quality of the conversations.
Remember networking is about meeting new people and building relationships. People do business with individuals they know, like and trust. Networking events are a great initial step to making introductions and building these relationships.