Networking: How To Effectively Mingle With People at Conferences and Events
You’ve arranged a babysitter, traded in your mommy clothes for the only suit that still fits, and teamed up with a friend to go to your first business event in what seems like forever. You walk in only to find a room full of strangers already deep in conversation. Dealing with a screaming toddler in the grocery store is a cake walk compared to navigating this crowd. Despite your desire to run home, or at least run to the bar and hide, you’ve made a commitment to “get-connected” and now is your chance.
The secret to tackling these events is to mingle effectively. To make it easier arrive early. A room with five people is less intimidating than entering a room with a hundred people.
Once you’ve dealt with the arrival details (registration, name tag, table number, etc), head to the middle of the room. “What? Are you kidding me?” Yes, go stand in the middle of the event energy. It’s difficult to mingle standing on the sidelines.
The Mingling Formula can help you become a master networker. Start with one element, focus on perfecting it, and then move to the next step. All the while realizing your goal for attending events is simply to find the contacts with whom you connect enough that you want to connect again outside of the event. Relationships don’t develop during the introduction, they develop over time and this is the first step in the process.
- Initiate Dialogue
- Create a Mini-Bond
- Get Contact Info
- Move On
- Repeat Often
Have confidence that life has prepared you to be a master networker as you’ve done this mingling formula thousands of times already. When we formalize the process for business functions, people seem to get all wonky about it and put undue pressure on themselves.
To start conversations simply make eye contact and say “Hi, How are you?” Then have some interesting questions or comments to follow up the intro so the conversation goes somewhere.
Create a Mini-Bond
Many elements contribute to making a connection such as body language, laughs, and common interests. Before heading to an event, consider your five-favorite topics, do a quick update on current events, and do your pre-event scouting (download checklist business networking checklists here).
It’s not the quantity of information that is shared, it’s the quality of information that is shared that determines the depth of a relationship. Take responsibility for deepening the level of conversation to make meaningful connections.
Get Contact Info
If you’ve created a mini-bond, then ask the person for his or her business card. If you won’t remember the person the next day, then don’t ask for the card. That’s how ineffective card-collecting happens – and master networkers know that simply collecting cards won’t have any value when you return to your life as normal outside of the event.
Exiting conversations can be the most difficult part. Everyone’s felt “stuck” before. Especially as women, we’ll stick around because we don’t want to be rude. Respect your time, and their time, by ending conversations after 3 to 8 minutes. If you want to talk longer, that means you’ve connected and that you want to connect again. Follow up the next day to continue the relationship, but for now, continue mingling with others to maximize the business results from the event.
Set a target number of quality conversations that you’d like to have at each event before you leave. Volume is less important than quality so do not get hung up on a number. Setting a goal is just a mechanism to remind you that if you truly want to get connected professionally, then you can’t spend the whole night talking with your BFF. To grow your network, you’ll need to actually network and find genuine connections with new people.
This process of mingling works at any type of networking function. Realistically I could write four blogs posts about each step in the mingling formula, but hopefully this will give you an overview of the steps of mingling so it seems less intimidating.
For those who really struggle with mingling, maybe you can now see why you haven’t had the success you would like.
Are you not initiating dialogue with new people? Do you not take the conversation deeper than Hi, How are you? Good. Busy. Is your body language not allowing others to connect with you? Are you forgetting to get contact information from people who you really like? Maybe you’re spending too much time at events with the same people rather than branching out and making new contacts. Or maybe you’re just not doing enough of it that you see a growth in your network.
When it comes to conferences (and I know my American friends love their conferences!) imagine that it’s really just a bunch of single events strung together to make a conference. Under the conference umbrella you’ll have cocktail parties, fancy dinners, hospitality suites, breakout sessions, morning coffee breaks and by-the-pool-time. There are so many events within the larger event.
Depending on the purpose of each portion of the conference, you may find there are certain times when it’s appropriate and expected that you mingle and meet new people and other times when you want to sit, relax, and dive into some deep conversations with your gal pals. There is a time and a place for all of the above.
At cocktail parties and hospitality suites within the conference you can practice the same mingling formula with the same time frames. Then by the end of the night you’ll be sharing some laughs for a few hours in the bar. That’s not “networking” time, that’s relationship development time.
The key is to find the balance between striking up new relationships and nurturing existing ones. If you leave a conference realizing you haven’t left the side of the friend you flew in with, you may have had a great time, but missed the full value of the conference. The real impact of a conference is determined in the next 365 days until you return to the same conference next year.
Imagine if you and your networking buddy have stories to tell each other about the conference rather than having lived the exact same experience. You could double your networking impact by supporting each other to step out of your comfort zones at least for a portion of the event.
The fortunate part about conferences is that you can speed up the steps in relationship development because you can move into the follow-up stage right on site by spending more time together at the next breakout session, meal or social gathering.
If you are serious about going to a conference, professional association event or business function to make connections so you can grow your business or career, then meeting new people by mingling, rather than spending the whole night attached to the hip of your girlfriends or watching from the sidelines is necessary.
The introduction and finding this mini-bond connection is just the first step in the development of long-term, mutually beneficial professional relationships. By understanding that it is a process and not a transaction, you can realize that events aren’t that intimidating. Events are just one piece of the networking puzzle.
I am so excited to be guest blogging for Mom It Forward over the next few weeks. Topics will include using business cards effectively, following-up, and losing the cheesy canned 30 second elevator pitch by using my 5-10-15 Communication instead.
[Photo by Jen Tilley]
When attending conferences and events, what helps you to feel more confident? How do you initiate dialogue? What are your favorite tips, tricks, and strategies for striking up a conversation?
Allison Graham worked as a receptionist during the day and a bartender at night. Thanks to learning how to network effectively in a short period of time she changed her life’s direction creating a huge network and a successful career in the media, politics, business and charitable sectors. Realizing the power of networking and being forever grateful to the people who showed her the way, Allison Graham has made it her personal mission to help others reach their true potential by teaching them practical networking strategies that actually work!
Allison Graham writes the column and blog for the London Free Press & syndicated throughout Sun Media called Getting Connected: The Art of Networking and has been featured in the Financial Post, Globe and Mail and on BNN’s MoneyTalk.
Allison authored the highly acclaimed book Business Cards to Business Relationships: How to Build the Ultimate Network (also available in Canada) that is packed with proven action steps for successful networking. For free networking tips or information on how to have Allison Graham speak at your next conference or corporate function, please visit www.elevatebiz.com. You can also follow Allison on Twitter (@AllisonDGraham) and on Facebook (facebook.com/elevatebiztraining).