Your Guide To Networking at Events
Updated March 29, 2023
Networking involves meeting professionals within and outside of your industry so that you can connect with them and other professionals in their networks. This experience is vital to gaining recognition in your industry, getting access to new opportunities and showcasing your qualifications to others.
In this article, we cover the best tips for finding networking opportunities, preparing for networking events and starting conversations effectively.
Tips for finding networking events and opportunities
Since there are many different kinds of networking events, consider the following ways to find the networking opportunities you want:
Join a professional organization
Being in a professional organization for your industry, field or specialty can help you find like-minded people with similar backgrounds and knowledge of the job prospects. In addition, these organizations often bring their members together for professional "mixers" and conferences—which may have a few dedicated networking events but are also networking events in themselves. By joining a professional organization, you get invited to these events or have access to a calendar of optional events throughout the year.
If your organization doesn't have any events posted, consider reaching out to the leaders, marketing team or membership officers to find out if there are any upcoming events you can sign up for. If there aren't, consider offering to organize one yourself.
Check your alumni associations
When you graduate from high school, undergraduate college or graduate school, you automatically join a network of alumni. Depending on your school, there may be an alumni association that hosts networking events. At these events, you may reconnect with former classmates or meet ones you've never met before. Some alumni associations even host events for specific groups, such as students who went into specific industries or students with particular interests.
Check your schools' alumni associations for upcoming events. Consider going to any industry-specific events to connect with people who are most prepared to help you find your next big opportunity. You can also attend the general events because someone there may know someone in your industry, and they can connect you to that person in their network.
Read industry newsletter and periodicals
Subscribing to industry newsletters, magazines, blogs and other publications can ensure you have the most up-to-date information about the goings-on in your field. That may include company announcements, product or service announcements, best practices and other newsworthy content. In addition, these publications may also advertise professional organizations and companies hosting conferences or networking events.
Be sure to check your subscribed publications regularly for upcoming events, and reach out to the organizers to find out how you can attend.
Go to social media pages for local organizations
If you have a professional social media presence, you may follow companies, industry leaders, colleagues and associations in your field. Check those social media pages for any event announcements as this is one of the fastest and most effective ways to advertise events and get a wide range of attendees.
You can also use your personal social media platforms to find these events. All you need to do is follow online groups, forums and friends or colleagues, all of which may post about upcoming events.
You can also just search "networking events near me" to see if any general events are being hosted in your area. Consider tailoring your search to your industry or professional interest, such as "finance industry networking events near me." This search may help you find events and even organizations that you may not have known about.
Searching "networking near me" may take you to sites where you can join a small, local group based on your industry, background, professional interests or personal passions. These groups often host events to network, too.
Tips for preparing for networking events
After you find the event you want to go to, take a few steps to prepare yourself for the event to set yourself up for success:
Know the purpose of the event
Read over the description and the organizer's profile to make sure you know the event's expectations and goals. Selecting events that are focused on what you want to achieve, such as meeting people in the same industry, ensures that you use your time—and the time of people you connect with—effectively and are best able to achieve your goal.
Knowing why the event is happening can also give you additional context that you can use in conversation, such as whether the event is honoring a specific individual for a milestone, promoting a product or raising money for charity.
Research who's going to the event
Review the event's social media page or the event registration page to see who also has registered to attend. You can also review social media and the event description to see if there are any keynote speakers or industry leaders that are also going to be in attendance.
Using this information, you can make two important lists:
A list of people you've already met but want to build stronger relationships with
A list of people you want to meet and why
These lists can help you effectively plan your time at the event, such as focusing more time on meeting a few new connections and spending a smaller amount of time on reconnecting with people. You can also use them to prioritize your most important connections, too.
Review the event's agenda or schedule
Typically, you should be able to see the agenda or schedule when you go to register for the event or in a confirmation message after registering. Review this schedule so you can plan to attend certain sessions to meet specific people who are likely to be attending or use the time before a meal is served to make connections with anyone you come across.
Establish one goal
While you want to remain flexible at the event and be open to meeting people you didn't plan on meeting, having one clear goal in mind can help you focus your efforts during the event. Perhaps you want to make a certain number of new connections or secure a follow-up meeting. Each of these goals can keep you focused, but choosing just one ensures you feel comfortable during the event.
Ask a friend or colleague to join you
Having another person with you can often help you feel more comfortable since you know you have someone to talk to. Plus, you can introduce each other to new people, which may feel more natural to do than introducing yourself and your accomplishments to others. This approach to making connections can even boost your confidence, too.
Encourage them to set a networking goal so that you both can get the most out of the event.
Prepare your resume
Have your resume ready to share digitally to ensure you have your information available should someone request it to offer you an opportunity or to send to a network connection of theirs.
Dress in your best professional attire
Just like an interview, a networking event is your chance to impress others with how you present yourself. Depending on the dress code for the event, you may be able to wear your nicer business casual clothes, your best business professional outfit or even a black-tie ensemble for more upscale events.
Tips for networking at events
Here's how to network at events:
Ask to volunteer
When you get to the event, find ways to help out, such as offering to volunteer for check-in duties, assisting with equipment setup or simply holding the door open for others. These gestures show that you care about and are willing to go out of your way for others. Plus, helping with specific tasks is a great way to start meeting new people.
Connect with people first
While you can wait for people to approach you, try going up to individuals who are on their own and introduce yourself instead. Making the effort to meet people can speed up the process of meeting new connections and demonstrate that you can be outgoing and are welcoming to others.
Throughout the event, find ways to seem approachable and welcoming to others so you can more easily make connections. Smiling and making eye contact with passersby shows that you're friendly and confident, and these types of nonverbal cues can indicate that you're willing to connect with others.
Introduce yourself effectively
When you do make a connection, start introducing yourself by offering your hand for a quick yet firm handshake. Then, give them your name and ask for theirs. You can then start the conversation by telling them about your role and the company you work for. If they ask you first, be sure to have your two- or three-sentence elevator pitch ready.
Learn how you can help your new connections
Focus on listening to what others say, nodding and showing that you're listening and asking them follow-up questions to show you're engaged in the conversation. Active listening is an effective way to learn what your connection needs and how you can help them get it. Being helpful to your connections allows you to become an important resource for them, and in return, they can be a resource for you in the future.
Join ongoing conversations
If there are groups around you engaged in conversations, consider briefly listening in and contributing a new point to the conversation as way to introduce yourself into the group. Focus on providing additional information, and wait for others to ask about your work and accomplishments to ensure the conversation stays relevant to the group.
Talk while waiting in line
Depending on the event, you may be waiting in line for a variety of things, such as waiting on the restroom or for food to be served. Take this time to turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself.
Hand out business cards
As you finish up a conversation with someone, consider asking them for their business card so you can follow-up with them later. After they agree, offer your business card so they can reach out to you, too. Asking for someone's card before handing out your own is a professional courtesy that shows you want to make the effort to connect with them instead of expecting them to connect with you first.
Thank the organizers personally
Near the end of the event or after it ends, find the organizers and event planners for the event, and personally thank them for their work in hosting. This gesture can help you stand out as gracious and thoughtful.
Top 20 conversation starters for networking
Here are some of the best conversation starters you can use:
What do you do for a living?
How long have you worked at [company]?
Have you ever been to this event before? How many times have you attended?
Where are you from?
How did you hear about this event?
What's your story?
What's your greatest passion?
What's one thing you learned during the event that you'll take with you?
What are your thoughts on [industry topic]?
Have you read the latest article about [topic] in [publication]?
How was your trip to the event today/tonight?
That's a wonderful [accessory] you have. Where did you get it?
Do you know [name of colleague/acquaintance]?
I saw that you and I went to [college/university]. How did you like your experience?
I saw that you used to work for [company]. What did you do? Did you like it?
How long have you been a member of this organization?
I read your book/article on [topic]. It was really fascinating. What made you interested in that topic?
What made you want to get into this industry?
What's your favorite thing about your job?
What was your first job?
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