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I can be shy, so I have to psych myself up to attend networking events. Balancing food, drink, and quality conversation can be a challenge, especially in a room full of people I don't know very well. Let's assume that you are ready to attend a networking event:
In the banquet area, you need to find the drinks, food, bathroom, coat check, podium, and table seating. A quick survey of the room will work. Leave your purse locked in the car and only have your credit card, cash, car keys, and business cards in your suit pocket. It will be much easier for you to shake hands and hold your food without a purse falling off your shoulder. If you must have a little purse, consider a leather or satin clutch. It will not be noticeable and should not interfere while mingling.
Remember to smile even if you're nervous. Not only does it make you look approachable, it relaxes the people that you talk to.
If you find that it is hard for you smile because of nerves, pick a cue or mental signal to make you look happy. For example, at a Christmas party I might say to myself that every time I see the color red, I'll smile. People will want to talk with you if you look happy and engaged in what is going on around you, so sometimes you have to work at that perception.
You would be surprised how many businesswomen do not speak clearly or loudly enough in noisy party situations. We don't have the strong, low resonance of men's voices, so our higher voices often get lost in the din.
When meeting someone new, make eye contact, lean in and state your name and company name. Watch the other person's reactions. Did they understand you? Say it again if you have to. Make sure that this new person knows who you are, and be sure you find out the same information.
In order to remember this new person's name, repeat it after she has introduced herself (i.e. "It's nice to meet you, Michelle.") If you find you have forgotten this person's name at the end of your conversation, ask again. It's not rude, and it's a good opportunity to ask for a business card.
Keep in mind that you are attending the event to network, so keep food and drinks to a minimum. Watch what foods you eat to avoid strong smelling breath or be sure to have breath mints in your pocket of clutch.
Depending on the party, non-alcoholic is often the best way to go. If you need a libation to take the edge off, then pick something sip on for most of the evening.
Networking really needs to be about meeting people and getting to know them. Listen and ask good questions. You'll be practicing good sales skills that will come in handy at a later time. Pass out your business cards when there seems to be a good rapport and chance for future business.
If you are speaking with a senior executive from a major corporation, the rule is to wait for them to ask for a card. If they don't ask, be sure to write down their name and company and research their contact information later.
Mingling and conversing are considered arts. Mastering the rhythms of a conversation and encouraging someone to speak takes skill.
At most networking events, people are ready to talk about what they do or where they are from. Be ready to answer basic questions about yourself. You are getting to know someone new. Ask simple questions, such as "What do you think of this event/organization?" or say, "I'm new here. What other types of events does this organization have? Which ones have you attended?" You are establishing a new connection, so be interested in what this person is saying.
The best advice is for you to be yourself. Stay away from the subjects of politics and sports, and never talk negatively about anyone or any company. Stay neutral or silent.
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