DIY Management: 5 tips for networking at business events

From meeting and greeting to doing your research, how to work a room

Getting to Know You

Networking at business events is still one of the best ways to make connections. Shepa Learning Co. CEO and networking guru Darcy Rezac and Rob Prowse, adjunct professor of organizational behaviour and human resources at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, explain how to work a room

1. Size up the room

Stand at the front, look for someone who’s not tied up in a conversation, then go over and talk to them, Rezac advises. “Be careful of the pounce,” Prowse says. “Sometimes we can come across as being a little too assertive and even aggressive.” To join a group, do what Rezac calls the 28-second hover. “Find a friendly-looking group and just hover for, we say, 28 seconds because you can’t stand it any longer than that, and try and make eye contact with somebody so they’ll open the circle and let you in,” he explains. “When you’re in a circle talking to people that you know, widen your circle and invite people in. You’re there to make contact.”

2. Introduce yourself

Look people in the eye, use a good firm handshake, and tell them your name. In case you’ve met someone before and forgotten, say, “Nice to see you” or “Good to see you,” Rezac counsels. If they respond, “Nice to meet you,” ask for their name and exchange business cards. If they indicate you’ve already met, it helps to be networking with a tag teammate who can put out their hand and say, “Hello, my name is… I didn’t get your name.” “I call that the step-forward rescue,” Rezac says. “That happens a lot.”

3. Don’t go in cold

Research who’s attending, and find a detail about them to break the ice, Prowse suggests. Ask open-ended questions that engage people and feel less like an interrogation, and prioritize quality conversation over quantity of contacts. “Oftentimes when it’s a really great-quality conversation at a networking event, people talk about that person, so you’re broadening your impression with people you haven’t even met,” Prowse says. “Even one or two people could have an impact of up to a factor of nine.”

4. Do the buffet shuffle

“If you’re in the lineup at the buffet, that’s a good place to make first contact,” Rezac says. “Say hello to the person next to you, and then you can catch up with them later.” Prowse recommends holding your food in your left hand and keeping your right one free so you can shake hands. “Fifty-five per cent of the way we communicate is around body language, so making sure that you’re not fumbling is sending a very professional message,” he notes. Rezac’s take: “Your first impression is about three seconds, and it’s very difficult to undo a bad impression.”

5. Be memorable

If you’re going to an event to represent the company, it’s important to have business cards so people will remember who you are, Rezac says. Don’t rummage for your cards, Prowse warns—keep them handy, and wear something fashionable but not loud. “If you don’t want to make a statement with clothing, then depending on the brand with your business, there can be a statement made with your business card where people go, ‘That’s a really cool logo,'” he adds.