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Networking at an Event

By Marty Nemko

Would you like to meet people who could help your career or personal life? You have a great opportunity to meet people whenever you attend a workshop, a performance, whatever. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Show up 15 to 30 minutes before the event starts and hang out where other earlycomers are congregating. Then, use your intuition to pick out two or three people you sense you’d like to meet.

If your target person is alone, slowly approach, trying to establish eye contact. When you’re a couple of feet away, just say, “Hi, I’m insert your name.” If the person doesn’t start a conversation, say something very brief. For example, at an accountant’s convention, say something like “I’m a forensic accountant.” Don’t tell your woes early on, if at all. If the conversation stalls, ask something like, “Do you know much about the workshop leader?” Look for the right moment, to ask what you want, for example, “I’ve just set up a Sarbanes-Oxley reporting system for the Ace Widget Company and am looking for a new project. Any ideas?” Note: In that example, the person didn’t explicitly ask for a job. That’s too pushy.

If you sense you don’t want to spend the rest of the event with that person, stick your hand out and say something like, “It was good talking with you.” If you like the person but want to meet others, say something like, “I enjoyed talking with you. May I have your card?” Offer yours.

If your target person is conversing with someone else, stand a few feet away, but in his line of sight. Every five or ten seconds, try to establish eye contact. You might be lucky and be quickly signaled to join the conversation. If not, listen in. If you have something to add or ask, establish eye contact and look for a sign that it’s okay for you to speak. When it feels right, introduce yourself as above.

If one of your targets is at the refreshment table, head there and start a conversation as above, or perhaps commenting about the refreshments.

The event is about to begin. Now what? If you’re talking with a promising prospect, ask if she’d like to sit together. If the people you’ve spoken with aren’t promising leads, try to sit next to a prospect you haven’t yet talked with. During the event, there may be opportunities to connect: for example, whispers during the presentation or a chat during a workshop’s group activity.

When the event ends, use the same procedure to meet people as you used before the event.

If you’d like to talk with the speaker, be the last person to do so. That way, you may get more time and even the opportunity to walk out with him. Start with something like, “I really liked your talk, especially (insert a specific).” Ask a question you predict he’ll be interested in answering. Often, in the conversation, the speaker will ask about you. At that point, you might say what you’re looking for, for example, “I’m rather an expert on real-time PCR and looking for an interesting next project. Any advice?”

As soon as you get home, write a follow-up note, perhaps email, perhaps handwritten, to any people you want to stay in touch with. Example: “Dear Sandy, You and I met at the China conference. You said you were interested in power plant financing so I thought you might like to see this article. And thanks for offering to pass my name along to the right person at the power plant company. Best, Pat Pleaser.”

Later, consider contacting the person(s) again. For example, invite him into your online networking group. Or send an appropriate book—it’s inexpensive, yet memorable. I use because it’s so convenient, the selection is huge, and its prices are great. That’s probably also a good time to ask again for what you want.

Take the risk of approaching strangers. Worst that can happen is that you sound stupid. Even if you do, you’ll survive. More likely, you’ll gain something and have fun.

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