Flashback to your first high school dance: you don't quite know anyone, you're not sure why you're there, and you desperately search for a familiar face, because you don't want to stand against the wall alone. You can feel that first trickle of flop sweat between your shoulder blades.
It doesn't matter how outgoing you are, being thrown into a room full of people you've never met can be intimidating. But it's worth it, because it can lead to all kinds of opportunities and partnerships. Here are five ideas of what to expect at your first networking meeting.
- Most People Hate Being a Stranger in a Room Full of People.
- Find Someone You Know.
- The Networking Dance.
- It's Not All About You
- Your Work Has Just Begun
You will not be the only person there who feels this way. Even seasoned networkers hate walking into a room full of strangers. I've been networking for years, and my first instinct is still to find a dark corner. Remember, you're there to meet other people; people who can lead to new opportunities and partnerships. Sitting in a dark corner will not bring them to you. You need to find them. That five minute conversation you have could lead to something huge later on, but you'll never see it if you don't start talking.
If you're nervous, talk with someone you know first, to get comfortable talking with other people. Once you talk to someone, you'll forget about all the people around you, and only focus on that person.
Once you start, someone new will invariably show up, and you'll meet them. Then someone else will show up, and you'll meet them too. You'll eventually find that you have separated from the person you were originally talking to, and you didn't even notice. That's what I call the Networking Dance.
Here's typically what happens at a networking group. You and Dave are talking together. A third person, Shelley, approaches and begins talking with you. And as so often happens, she subtly engages one of you — let's say, Dave — more than the other.
So you're left to observe, and participate a little. But Lynn approaches, notices you're not saying much, and starts talking to you. Now there are two conversations. The two pairs will even distance themselves a tiny bit. Now you're talking to someone new.
After a few minutes, Carl will approach Dave and Shelley, and the whole thing will start all over. Keep in mind that this will happen to you shortly, so you only have a little time to learn what you need to know.
Your first instinct is to tell the other person all about you, spending the next few minutes racing through your information so they know everything they need. Don't do that.
I've been to many networking events where the other person talks about themselves, and I don't get a chance to say anything. I don't follow up with them, because they obviously don't think my needs are important.
You need to listen to other people, but you also need to have a chance to talk. That lets you both know if you'd like to meet again.
A networking meeting is not about finding a new customer, a new trusted advisor, or new friend. You didn't marry your spouse after one date, and you certainly won't sell anything or gain a partnership at a networking meeting. Your goal is to find someone you'd like to talk to later, over coffee or lunch.
If you really clicked with the other person, get their card and follow up within 24 hours. Even better, arrange a one-on-one before you leave. The one-on-one meeting is where you can really get to know someone, to deepen your relationship, and learn how you can help each other.
Attending a networking meeting can be a little intimidating, even if you've done it before. But if you know what to expect, and open yourself up to meeting one or two new people, you'll be closer to finding the opportunities and partnerships that bring you success.