I’ve been to a lot of events recently and I remember clearly how it feels to be the awkward guy in the room. I remember what it feels like to be so nervous that I swore I was up on a screen at the front and everyone was pointing at the spinach in my teeth. I remember not wanting to shake anyone’s hand because I just KNEW they were going to be grossed out by the waterfall of sweat that was pouring off.
Many people are familiar with this pre-event heart-pounding and come away from events feeling icky. They feel like they have to put on a fake personality and try to come away with a sale THAT DAY! They feel like the skill or art of networking is only left to a few blessed people.
Yep, there definitely are people who are natural schmoozers. But, you can be interesting without being inauthentic. I’ve taken Myers-Briggs personality inventory several times over the last 20 years and as much as I think I’ve changed, it identifies me as an introvert. Most people interpret that to mean shy but that is not necessarily true. What it DOES mean is I have to put some things in place BEFORE I enter any room that has a lot of people. It means that I need to prepare.
Here are some things that I do to make any event successful for me:
1. Know the event and who will be there.
You may not always be able to get the guest list. But, if it’s an alumni event, you can find out how many people are registered and how many of those are current university employees, etc.
2. Know what I’m going to say when people ask me about me.
Nothing worse than babbling and being unclear. I have a couple of prepared sentences that are short, to the point, tell who I serve and how I help. I don’t go on and on and on. I prepare something that I can answer and then allow the other person to jump back in.
3. Pre-fight hype!
Ok. It’s not a fight, per se, but it’s an environment that I have to prepare for. So, on my way to the event, I listen to music that gets me hyped or an audio book that gets my blood ripping excited. When I get to the event, I’m ready to take over.
Those are the things that I do to PREPARE. But now you’re at the event. What can you do to make sure that you were interesting, memorable and have a good time?
1. Smile…really smile…no, not the canned one, your real smile.
“Isn’t this obvious?”, you say. No, apparently it’s not. I get it. It’s an after work event and you’ve been out all day. Guess what? So has the other person. Smile. It’s a really great way to break the ice.
2. Make eye contact.
I read a great book by Nicholas Boothman (How To Connect in Business in 90 seconds or less) and he spoke about looking people in the eye with the intent of determining their eye color. When you look people in the eye, they feel you are interested, listening to them and you make them feel like the only person in the room at that particular moment.
3. Be energetic
Bring your best energy. Yes, you may even need to be a little over the top. OK. I’m not talking about Hollywood drama here. I’m talking about stepping up your enthusiasm. Don’t be FAKE. Be REAL! Listen intently. Share passionately. People are DRAWN to enthusiasm, confidence and energy. Try it.
4. Laugh (this is different than smiling)
Smiling is good. But you always remember someone who laughs. When you laugh, you appear so much more relaxed to everyone. And the truth is that you are. I’m not talking about the Eddie Murphy, Nutty Professor howling laugh, as seen here:
I’m talking about a genuine laugh that shows you are having a good time, that you ARE a good time and that life with you is interesting.
5. Always have a great question in your pocket
This may be one of the most important things that you can bring. Everyone bring the same question to an event. “Sooooo, what do you do?”
Asking this question simply puts you in the same category as EVERYONE else.[bctt tweet=”Instead of ‘What do you do?’, ask ‘Who do you serve?’ – @pattyfarmer”]
I did a great podcast episode with a friend of mine, Patty Farmer, in 2014 and she suggested that instead of asking people what they do, ask the question, “Who do you serve?”
That’s a great question. You can also ask people:
“What made you come out to the event tonight?”
“What did you think about the speaker this evening?”
“I’m looking for the most interesting person in the room. Who should I get to know? (and then smile)
Bonus: Your escape plan.
OK. Sometimes you get caught. You get stuck talking to that person that won’t stop. You asked one question and they got wound up like a talking doll with a broken off button. Sorry. It happens to the best. Is it ok to leave this conversation? Yes. You may have to interrupt. You may NEED to interrupt. You may need to use:
“Listen, I need to catch up with Jim and he is walking out the door right now,” or
“Sorry to interrupt but I’m really thirsty and need to go get something to drink,” or the brutally honest, “Hey, it was great chatting. I’ve got to move to another conversation.” Yep, sometimes you just have to move on.
Relationships, conversations and communication can be tricky. But, simply do your best to be interested then interesting.
What suggestions do you have for great networking connections?
Check out my podcast with John Corcoran for other networking tips and ideas.
Check out another article on networking and connecting – Why Connectors Rule The World