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4 Ways to Shine at Networking Events

Surviving and even thriving at networking events requires a strategy.

Key points

  • Surviving and even thriving at networking events requires a strategy.
  • Avoid telling people your title; focus instead on the problem you solve.
  • Develop starter sentences that can ignite a conversation in almost any situation.
  • Connect with your new contacts on social media and continue the conversation.
For many, the idea of making small talk and networking makes them want to hide.
Source: Pixabay/Ivanovgood

The holiday season is coming, and with it, personal and professional holiday gatherings. For many, the idea of making small talk with people you know, let alone those you don’t, is off-putting and depleting.

However, there are strategic benefits to meeting new people—you'll increase your network, learn something new, and perhaps meet someone with whom you sync. Going into these events with a strategy can reduce anxiety and maybe even get you excited about meeting someone new. Some helpful strategies include:

1. Be memorable.

If you want the contact to last long after the initial fleeting conversation, you need to be memorable. The first step is to find a common point of interest such as a favorite travel destination, color, your alma mater, hometown, or former employer.

2. Lose your title.

Have a 30-second introduction where you state your name and where you are from. Unless you are part of the C-Suite (CEO, CFO, etc), do not worry about your title as it is likely unique to your organization and would have little to no significance to the person you just met. Instead, focus on the problem you solve.

3. Develop starter sentences.

Benign conversation starters get the communication going and deflect the attention off of you and onto your dialogue partner. The conversation should be like a ping-pong, and you can have the first serve.

Develop brief conversation starters which can be part of your professional toolbox. These could be used to start a conversation with someone at any time. You can focus on a color they are wearing, or something unusual on their person, such as a unique style to their glasses or a lapel pin. Ask a question like, "What does that lapel pin signify?" You will quickly learn what is important to them.

Be sure to ask a follow-up question, too, such as, "How long have you been working for this company?" or "How did you first get involved in that organization?" This will give you greater insight into the person you are talking with, and the conversation can provide new launching points for follow-up discussions.

4. Connect online.

After you meet with the person, follow up. If business cards were exchanged, send an email. Either way, connect with them on a social media platform such as LinkedIn. In the email or LinkedIn message, send a brief note such as, "It was great meeting you at the XXX event. I greatly enjoyed our conversation about XXX. Looking forward to staying in touch." When they post on LinkedIn, be sure to show engagement by leaving a comment.

The stress of holiday gatherings can be alleviated with a little advanced planning. Prepare your introduction by highlighting the problem you solve, develop some starter sentences to get the conversation going, and have a follow-up to ensure the connection continues long after the party is over.