As the holiday season quickly approaches, the opportunity for new connections is on the rise. Often we see events as a chance to join our colleagues and community members in fellowship and fun, but what you should be doing is building new relationships and expanding your network. So put down the eggnog and pick up your noggin. In this day and age your next job isn’t about what you know, it’s about who you know, and you never know where you’ll meet that person.
Standing out, in a good way—come on, we all know that person—at a networking event is simple as long as you know what you’re doing. Granted, this is coming from someone who used to simply stand out by wearing a sparkly crown, but…I digress…
Here are my top five tips for standing out:
1. Have a Purpose- Every opportunity to gather with like-minded individuals is due to something of greater purpose. Is this a charity function? Awards luncheon? Work gathering? House party? Figure out what the literal intent of the event is, and then find your personal purpose for attending. If you are attending a charity event and the charity is not one you’re immediately involved with, find a personal connection. In doing so, the event at hand not only makes you more engaged and aware, but it also makes you more interesting to those around you. Your personal connection serves as an immediate conversation starter and helps build common ground to whomever you’re speaking.
2. Dress Appropriately– I feel like this should go without saying, but make sure you have taken the dress code into consideration. Within seven seconds of meeting someone you have already made your first impression. Make sure that your impression is not based on how you missed the memo for dress. Standing out for inappropriate clothing isn’t a good thing. However, dress codes can be confusing, so here’s a guide to help you start off on the right track. And, if all else fails, you can never go wrong with a beautifully cut, conservative, knee-length black dress—from cocktail to casual, you’ll always look like you just “popped in from work.”
3. Do. Your. Homework.- The most important aspect of attending any event is to investigate what you have signed up for. Do your research on the organization, company or person that is hosting. You need to know the important aspects of the Five W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why? These questions apply to any situation in which professionals are involved, but they also apply if the event is hosted in a home:
Who runs the organization (or company)?
What do they do?
When did they start/become involved?
Where is the organization based and where do they have the most impact?
Knowing the answers to these questions will keep you in the loop as you mingle in and out of conversations. You should feel comfortable stepping up to a cocktail table or sitting down to dinner and joining a discussion about the company at hand or the host of the party. If you’re attending as a special guest, you may be asked to answer questions for media purposes, and knowing as much as possible about the intent of the evening will make you and the organization stand out.
In addition to homework about the event itself, it is also crucial to be well read on the day’s news and current topics. Nothing is more uncomfortable than sitting at a table where people are discussing the happenings of the world and having no clue what they’re talking about. After all, that’s precisely how we avoid the “So how about this weather!” conversation!
4. Work the Room– On occasion it may seem that taking a friend to an event and sticking with them the entire time is the easiest option (trust me, I’m guilty!), but that is not the answer if your intent is to meet new people and create new relationships. Make a point to speak to as many people as possible. When you meet someone new, give a firm handshake. Nothing screams, “I’m not worthy,” like a limp hand (and this goes for you, too, guys). Look someone square in the eye, state your first and last name, and shake. their. hand. It does not make you masculine, it makes you assertive—something we need more of in the professional world.
What is the number one rule of conversations with strangers? Everyone is more at ease when talking about themselves. As you move from contact to contact, the best way to keep those around you engaged is to ask them questions about their lives: family, career, philanthropy, hobbies. By asking another person questions you immediately put them at ease (and take the pressure off of them), and when they are at ease they begin to let their guard down. After chatting for a bit, excuse yourself and move on…but not after exchanging business cards.
At some point in the evening (the earlier the better), make sure to find the host(s) and thank them for putting together the function. Staying in contact with the organization leader, host or honoree only expands your network!
5. Follow Up- Last, but not least, is the follow up. If the business cards you collect go in to a pile on your desk for the day you need to reach out to the person you met three months ago….forget it. Immediately reach out via email to the people you made contact with at the function and express your gratitude for conversation and how wonderful it was to meet them. If you really enjoyed meeting them, want to know more about what they do, or desire mentorship in any capacity, ask if you can take them for coffee. Coffee has started some of the world’s greatest career paths.
Following up is the first step to creating a relationship, which is exactly what networks are about, but remember that relationships are about give and take. Make sure you know what you can offer someone in exchange for their expertise, advice, connections, etc. While I have personally found that most people are willing to help others out of the goodness of their heart, it is always good to assess your value in the fold.
Want to have Mallory speak? Visit her website www.ItsMalloryHagan.com or contact [email protected] and follow her @ItsMalloryHagan