Imagine this: You’ve just walked into a crowded room full of strangers. Your mission is to meet new people, make friends or pass out business cards.
This used to be my mission (and nightmare) every time I had to go to a networking event, party or group get together—and I would always end up wondering, “Why did I even come to this thing?”
Networking events suck. Parties full of strangers suck. Trying to work a room sucks. Here’s the thing I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to suck. I was so tired of going to events that were a waste of time, overwhelming or awkward, that I decided to find a way to change it.
Here’s how you can rock a networking event:
As a recovering awkward person, I figured out the art and science of hacking a networking event–and today I am going to share those tricks with you.
1. Name Tag Tip
I have an insider tip on name tags: Always, always look at other people’s name tags before filling out yours. I can’t tell you how many times it’s happened to me where I look like a giant nerd because I have filled out my full name and company and everyone else just has their first name. Or worse, I just write my first name and everyone else practically has their resume written on their chest. Save yourself the pain and get in the habit of checking out others’ first.
2. Hit the Sweet Spot
The biggest rookie mistake I see is when people plant themselves right at the entrance of a networking event to meet people. This is the worst spot! Here’s why:
- When people walk into an event you have to give them time to breathe! Instinctively when we are in a new place around new people there are two things we want: Nourishment (typically a drink or food) and to survey the room. So don’t plant yourself right in the doorway. Anyone you pounce on right as they enter will only be thinking about getting something from the bar, loading up a plate or trying to check out the room surreptitiously over your head.
The best place to stand is right where people leave when exiting the bar. This way they have a drink in their hand and they are ready to mingle. This is always where I plant myself when I’m at networking events and it makes for super easy conversations.
3. Treasure Lines
Never pass up the opportunity to meet someone while standing in line. It is the easiest, non-awkward way to meet the person in front of and possibly even behind you. The bonus is that if you don’t enjoy speaking with them you can easily end the conversation once you get your drink or food. At a networking event where I really don’t know anyone, I will get back in line when it is extra long to be able to meet more people easily. If you need help thinking of something to say, check out our killer conversation starters.
4. Use the Head Tilt
It can be hard to make real connections at networking events, but it’s possible. And I do it using body language. My favorite move is the head tilt. The head tilt is the universal body language sign for “I’m listening.” You can do this when someone is speaking to show you are paying attention and excited to meet them. This makes you more charismatic.
5. Be a Business Card Master
There are two problems that always happen with business cards at networking events. First, awkwardly searching for your business card when someone asks for it. Or second, losing someone’s business card so you can’t follow up the next day. Avoid having to dig through your purse or wallet to find a business card or losing the ones you get with my system–right pocket my business cards, left pocket other people’s business cards. You’ll never lose a card again and it makes the exchange super easy. By the way, if you have a purse use one pocket for yours and one for someone else’s.
- Insider Tip: A great blog post on Eventbrite also suggested Peeping the Guestlist before an event which can really help you target the right people. (Eventbrite is a technology platform with great event management software tools)
6. The Name Association Trick
Remembering names can be a nightmare–especially when you have met someone multiple times! I am going to show you how to never forget a name again. Researchers from Emory University attempted to improve peoples’s name memorability over 3 sessions. In the first session, each participant took a face recall test to establish their ability. In the following sessions, each participant was taught a memory strategy. After only a month, the participants significantly improved their recall ability, some up to 69%! Here’s what they learned:
Attach a visual cue to a unique facial or body feature. This memory strategy comes from the EON-Mem (Ecologically Oriented Neurorehabilitation of Memory) program. Here is an example:
This is my friend Lacy. If I met her at a party I would think, her hair looks just like an Ace with the pointed A top. Ace = L-Ace-Y
Use this and you will always remember people’s names–it will also help improve your creativity!
7. Work the Food Tables
It is great to stand where people exit the bar. But DON’T stand where people exit with food. This is not as good, because if you start speaking to someone with a full plate of food, it is hard to shake hands and all they want to do is eat! Instead of standing where people exit the food station, you can stand at cocktail tables or seat yourself at tables where people eat. This is much easier because people can put their plate down and chat as they eat casually. Plus, studies show that breaking bread with someone builds rapport faster than just talking.
It is so hard to drum up conversation with a stranger. But I have a few easy tips for you. Check out our killer conversation starters.
If you are building your business, it’s essential to be able to have beyond surface level conversations with people. For example, in Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid book, he talks about how you can use networking to harvest and find new clients. Make sure you are using conversation starters that help you find and learn more about potential clients.
9. You + Touch = Influence
Touch is one of our most powerful, but underutilized tools. Why? Because it releases something called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the chemical that makes us feel connection. When we are bonded with someone, building rapport or have a strong relationship oxytocin courses through our brain. One of the things that causes a surge in oxytocin is touch. So when you can use it properly, you can instantly build connection. One study had librarians briefly touch certain patron’s hands as they checked out books. Every patron who had gotten a light touch on the arm rated the librarian more favorably and more likable. Just this simple gesture increased the librarians likeability score. Waitresses also tried touching specific diners on the arm or hand when they dropped off the bill. Those diners who received the touch got a 41% higher tip! That means touch not only makes you more charismatic, but also brings you more income.
- Touch is great ONLY when you use it properly. To do this, you have to know the touch map. Here is the rule of thumb you want to remember: The further towards the center of the body, the more intimate the level of touch. So the hand, forearm and elbow are safe areas and better for professional settings. The head and torso should only be used with people you are extremely close with. A quick note here, some people even if it is in the “safe zone” do not like to be touched. If I am going to touch someone’s arm, I always do so very lightly the first time and make sure to watch and see if they pull back from the touch or stiffen their shoulders. This tells you their comfort level with touch.
It is always good to have a couple of awesome anecdotes in your back pocket. I have found that these books come up all the time in conversation and stimulate interesting back and forth. Check out my favorite books and add them to your list!
Do you have someone you go to networking events with–a coworker, friend or wingman? Please forward on so you can work together at the next event.
Did you love these 10 tips? We have 14 more hacks for you to learn in our book Captivate!
Do you wish you could decode people? Do you want a formula for charisma? Do you want to know exactly what to say to your boss, your date or your networking partner? You need to know how people work.
As a human behavior investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards studies the hidden forces that drive our behavior patterns in her lab—and she’s cracked the code. In Captivate she shares a wealth of valuable shortcuts, systems and behavior hacks for taking charge of their interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on human behavior and a completely new approach to building connections.
Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18764984