11 rules for networking a room so you don’t come off as a total tool

18 Oct

Illustration nervous face

You’re not dying. It just feels that way.

Whether you’re a student or an experienced business pro, networking events can reduce most of us to blobs of jelly quivering behind the food table.

Here are my best tips for how to transform yourself into a passable version of a confident person – and benefit from the event.

RULE 1: Have a strategy.

What do you want to achieve from the event? Be specific. Survival is not a strategy. Three business contacts with the potential for follow-up is. One is certainly doable! Arrive focused on that.

RULE 2: Get there early.

Counter-intuitive, right? You don’t want to be the first there and stand around? It’s easier than the alternative, which is trying to break into conversations that are already taking place. Getting there early gives you far more opportunity to approach someone who isn’t yet occupied.

RULE 3: Have business cards.

After you’ve said hello, offer them one. It gives them something to play with, lets them see your name (because they will immediately forget it) and helps them to remember you afterwards when you follow-up.

RULE 4: The usual rules of conduct apply.

Imagine you are in a bar. Would you launch The Great Me at someone from the get-go and expect an enraptured audience? Of course you wouldn’t. Don’t do it here either.

Rule 5: Be interesting by being interested.

Ask questions. In fact, have a bunch of them already tucked up in the back of your head to pull on. Ask about their work, how business is, whether they come to a lot of networking events. You can’t tell someone you’re interesting – they have to come to their own conclusions. Get them talking about themselves and they’ll remember you positively.

RULE 6: Don’t get drunk.

Alcohol may give confidence but it’s an unforgiving judgement thief.

RULE 7: Don’t hover around the food.

I know it’s comforting to hide and eat, but you’re not a fruit fly. Instead, eye up the scariest person in the room and head straight to them to introduce yourself and ask them your questions. Once you’ve slain Goliath, it’s all smooth sailing.

RULE 8: This is not dating.

You are not looking for phone numbers here. Nor should you give out private personal info. That will come later when you are following up with your new contacts.

RULE 9: Stick to business.

Leave the talk about sports teams and weather to the TV news anchors.

RULE 10: Network in pairs.

Nervous wreck? Work the room with a buddy until you loosen up.

RULE 11: Follow up.

It’s not enough to feel good about the evening. You have to make it count for something. You’re building your network here! Add your new connections to Linkedin and follow up with emails of appreciation to everyone you got a business card from. Just don’t do it as soon as you get home, which comes off as a bit psycho. Wait a few days.


How to get out of a dud conversation! Wait for a natural break in the convo and say: “Well thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Is it alright if I add you to my Linkedin contacts?” Smooth exit strategy.

How to butt in without feeling like a complete loser! Simply approach a group and say: “Hi, do you mind if I join you?  What have I missed?” And smile, even though you want to vomit.

How to use bathroom breaks strategically! This is a great Extractor Technique™ to get away from someone who is clinging to you or won’t shut up or has nothing to say: Excuse yourself! Go check yourself out in the bathroom mirror (be brave!) and wipe the sweat and oil off your face. Then get back in there!

Remember: Go in with a strategy, execute it and follow through. You’ll do great.

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