How to negotiate and succeed at networking events

Do you despise networking events?

It’s that time of the year when we’re either invited to, or hosting an end of year event. 

I used to **hate** networking events and would often make a quick trip around the room so I had numerous alibis, then I’d do a ‘Houdini’ as soon as reasonably possible and slip out a back door somewhere.

Since then, I’ve learned to enjoy networking more and I continue to make exceptional business connections from my networking efforts.

Here are some strategies I use when negotiating networking events:

1. Don’t hand out business cards, even if you’re asked for one.

Instead, ask for their details and an opportunity to catch up and chat properly over the coming weeks. When people ask me for a card, I also do a little pre-qualifying and I make the (bold) assumption that they would like to catch up with me.

I say something like, sorry, I didn’t bring cards with me, but do you have one please? Seems like you have an interest in what I do? How about we catch up another time as we didn’t really get a chance to have a proper conversation today.

2. Don’t ask “so, what do you do?”

Instead, ask questions like:

  • What brings you here today?
  • What would you be doing if you weren’t here right now?
  • What Netflix shows are you planning to binge over the Christmas break?
  • How are you planning to spend Christmas day?
  • Tell me what’s on your Santa lists for your children (if you know they have children)

3. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, connect with someone beforehand

It’s ok to ask the organiser for the guest list. Tell them you don’t know anyone and you’d like to see if you can make a connection with someone beforehand. Then check on LinkedIn who you’re connected to and send them a message asking if they are planning to attend. Strike up a bit of chat there and you’ll have a much warmer conversation with someone in the room whom you already know a little.

4. Don’t show-up and throw up

If your plan is to ‘work the room’ and vomit your greatness all over everyone, then this is a terrible strategy. Do not dominate the conversation and make yourself the hero. Be aware of how much ‘air-time’ you’re taking up and get that balance right. In a great conversation with someone, you want to be speaking less than 40% of the time.

5. Politely excuse yourself from someone, don’t be rude

If you’re caught speaking to someone who just doesn’t float your boat, then don’t be rude. People will always remember how you made them feel and it might just be they feel nervous and as a result, is doing a terrible job at holding a conversation. Be kind.

Here are a few things you can say as a respectful and kind way to break the conversation:

  • Do you mind if I excuse myself, I’ve seen someone I’d also like to say hello to. Actually, would you like come along with me and I’ll introduce you (they may then excuse themselves as well)
  • Thank you for the conversation this evening. I’m not planning to stay much longer and there is another of my colleagues I need to catch up with before I go. Would you mind if I excused myself?
  • I’ve enjoyed hearing around (something genuine). Shall we go and meet some others in the room?

6. Follow people up after the event

If you’ve had a great conversation, tell them! It’s likely they felt the same way. I always ask someone at that point if they would like to catch up after the event sometime. I ask for their card and see if I can give them a call the next day to book something in. No one has ever rejected me on this!

Negotiating your way through networking events can be stressful without a strategy, so give some of these tips a try and see how your experience can change for the better.