Dear Matt: I started attending networking events but they make me nervous. Do you have any professional networking and etiquette tips you can share?
Matt says: Attending networking events is an efficient way to meet lots of people in a short amount of time, says Marni Hockenberg, principal of Hockenberg Search (hockenbergsearch.com), a boutique retained executive search firm. “You can make many great first impressions if you are professional in your appearance, conversation and manners,” says Hockenberg.
That’s why in addition to a fresh haircut and nice suit, the most appropriate thing you should wear is a smile. “Nothing says ‘I’m approachable and probably someone that you’d like to know’ more than a smile,” says Hockenberg.
Set goals before the event, says Laura Barclay, an international business etiquette expert (civilitycentre.com) who teaches quarterly etiquette classes in the Twin Cities. Many people simply show up without a plan other than to distribute business cards to as many people as possible. Aim to engage with at least three or four people. “The point of networking is to have meaningful interactions, which is learning about the other person as well as sharing a bit about you,” says Barclay.
Here are some additional tips from both Hockenberg and Barclay.
Stop in the restroom when you arrive to ensure you are presentable. Have a breath mint (but avoid strong mouthwash). Also avoid garlic, onions, and anything else that can lead to bad breath for a couple of days in advance, says Barclay.
Avoid drinking liquids that leave a heavy aroma on your breath which can be distracting and even offensive, says Hockenberg — for example, red wine and coffee.
If you do choose to have something to eat or drink, always keep your right hand free to shake hands.
Preparing icebreaker questions in advance can help with conversation. Barclay and Hockenberg recommend asking things like, “How is your day going?”, “What brings you here tonight?” and “What other industry organizations do you belong to?” “This is an especially important strategy for introverts who may be uncomfortable initiating a conversation,” says Hockenberg.
Finally, don’t be the person who constantly scans the room looking for someone more important to talk to. “Maintaining good and constant eye contact with your networking partner shows respect for the other person,” says Hockenberg.
Professionally excusing yourself from a conversation that’s run its course is acceptable, but when you’re done, “let the other person know that you’ve enjoyed meeting them,” says Hockenberg. And smile.
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