How to make the most of a networking event

In the first part of our networking series we discussed how to prepare for a networking event. This week, we’re focussing on being at the actual event itself.

You’re feeling fresh in your new outfit … you’re immaculately groomed … you’ve got your introduction spiel down pat … you’ve even remembered your business cards! So, what’s next?

Arriving at the event

Arrive early. Arriving fashionably late is not cool; it’s not a party and you’re most likely not a celebrity (if you are, be sure to follow us on social media!). If you’re a little bit nervous, arriving late to an already crowded room can be quite overwhelming.

Pro tip: Arrive at least 15 minutes early.

You’ve either:

(a) Arrived on your own; or

(b) Arrived in a group

Regardless of who you’ve arrived with, check in at the registration table as soon as you arrive. Nobody likes the awkward person who lingers in the foyer.

Pro tip: Most registration tables have the name badges arranged in alphabetical order. If you’ve done your research (if you read our previous post you definitely would have) you’ll be able to determine whether or not your targeted guests have arrived at the event yet.

Entering the room

Because you’ve arrived a little bit early, you’ve got a great chance to get a feel for the room. Although you might feel more comfortable gravitating towards people you know, try to avoid spending too much time in a group. Introduce yourself to somebody who is on their own. It will be a great way to warm up and build your confidence. Just remember it’s highly likely the majority of people attending the event are just as nervous as you.

Pro tip: Position yourself in vicinity of the bar … seriously! A lot of people tend to gather near the bar and it’s a great way to strike up conversations.

Engaging in conversation

It can be intimidating to approach people to strike up conversation, but you know what, almost everybody at the event is there to do the same thing. When you do approach somebody, shake their hand firmly (nobody likes a sloppy handshake), look them in the eye and repeat their name. This not only helps you remember it, but it shows that you’re making an effort to hear the name properly.

Pro tip: Wear a nametag that is easy to read and is descriptive of you. Wear it on your right shoulder so that people can easily see it when they shake your hand.

Because you’ve read our previous post and prepared for the event, you’ll have your short introduction down pat.

Maintaining conversation

You’ve started well, now it’s time to maintain conversation. To get to the big talk you’ll need to start with the small talk. Small talk enables you to find common ground and create a mini-bond with the person you’re talking to. Start by asking a question. Some of our favourites include:

  • ‘What do you do?’
  • ‘I like your …’
  • ‘The appetisers are great. Have you tried XYZ?’
  • ‘What did you think about the speaker/conference?’
  • ‘What projects do you have lined up?’

Pro tip: Stay away from politics and sensitive issues. Just don’t even go there.

As we touched on in the last post, you should be aiming to ask more questions than you answer. Be sure to listen intently, maintain eye contact and angle your body towards somebody you’re talking to. Not only is it polite, it makes the person that you’re talking to get the feeling that you’re genuinely interested in them. The result is they become more open and share more information about themselves, which is a great way to start building a professional relationship.

Exit strategies

Yeah, we’ve all been there. The conversation is getting awkward and it’s time to go. So, how do you politely peel away from the rambling guy with bad breath? Try the following:

  • ‘That was an interesting conversation. However, I’ll leave you so we can both meet other people. Enjoy the rest of the event!’
  • ‘It was great to meet you. I have to work the event a bit more and say hello to some more people. Perhaps I’ll run into you a bit later. Good luck with the rest of the event!’
  • ‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to say hello to a few more people. Best of luck with the rest of the event.’
  • Excuse yourself politely (need to make a call, get a refill, use the bathroom, etc.)
  • Introduce them to a mutual colleague in the vicinity


Do you have any networking event tips? Please share them in the comment box below.

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