networking events

How to Network at an Event Without Feeling Drained of Your Energy

Here are 6 easy things introverts can immediately start doing to improve their experience at events.

Photo by: Phillip Van Nostrand

Photo by: Phillip Van Nostrand

How many times have you been invited to an event and the big day arrives, but a couple hours before it begins you find yourself dreading it?

You start thinking of all of the reasons why you can’t make it.

You wonder if anyone will notice if you don’t show up.

You wonder if you'll have anything in common with the people you are about to spend a few hours with.

You decide to go because you worry you feel like you have to make an appearance.

In the past, you may have found yourself experiencing the following:

  • Standing on the edges of the room by yourself wondering how soon after arriving is too early to depart;
  • Avoiding making eye contact with anyone because you don’t know what to talk about; or
  • Looking at your phone so nobody wonders why you’re standing off to the side of the room by yourself.

And if you do get brave and decide to walk up to a group of people who looks friendly, you find yourself in one of two situations. The first involves you standing there smiling and nodding. The second occurs when they turn to you and someone asks you a question. This one question can send you into sharing a story that goes on for so long that you even get tired of the sound of your own voice. This is the opposite of what you wanted but your fear of awkward silence has suddenly made you the center of attention.

You leave the event feeling exhausted and drained after meeting a number of people who you aren’t even sure if you should follow up with because you don’t feel like it was a positive experience. You even swear off events forever on your way home and write them off as a waste of time and energy. You also consider the possibility of not leaving your home for the next 5 days so you can recharge.

Here are 6 things you can start doing immediately to make yourself magnetic (and dare I say energized) while attending events:

  1. Set an intention before the event. Ask yourself: what would make this event great? Would it be meeting someone from a particular industry? Or introducing yourself to someone whose work you admire? Whatever it is, have that in mind before you arrive so you know exactly what you need to do to make the event a success.
  2. Be curious about other people and go into the event thinking that no matter who you meet they have something to teach you. When you approach people from a place of curiosity rather than a place of anxiety, you will intuitively know which questions to ask them to keep the conversation flowing naturally.
  3. Prepare a list of 4 questions you can ask anyone you meet no matter who they are and memorize them so you always have something to say. I like to start with, “What is something you are really excited about right now?” This question automatically stands out because typically the first question people ask at events is, "What do you do?"
  4. Network ‘outside of the box’. Try going to events where you won’t meet anyone from your current industry to practice getting comfortable around groups of people. This does 2 things. It prevents you from only speaking to people you know and it makes people curious about you. For instance, if you’re at an event in the finance industry and your occupation is in healthcare then people are going to naturally wonder why you are there. You won’t have to worry what to say because they will be asking you thoughtful questions. The group will naturally want to make you feel comfortable and welcome in this situation because most people would consider what you are doing really brave. As a result, the conversations will be geared towards topics that they think you would feel comfortable talking about.
  5. Be helpful. If you see someone standing on the outskirts of the room, looking down, who is alone, walk over to him or her and smile and introduce yourself. Chances are they will be relieved you said, "Hello." You can even break the ice by mentioning that you don’t know anyone there and ask how that person heard about the event to get the conversation started. It is likely you will have a lot in common with that person, because you have stood in his or her shoes in the past.
  6. Be conscientious of your body language. Two of the most important things you can do are smile and don’t cross your arms. If you want to take this a bit further, think about the body language someone displays when they are confident, approachable, and friendly. You can contrast it in your mind with the body language someone might display if they are unapproachable. Adopt the body language of that person you thought of who is confident.

are you exhausted after conferences because you spent all day trying to meet new people in the same industry as you?

Networking Math: Divide Dunbar's Number by 3

How to maximize your networking efforts by limiting yourself to 50 new contacts each year.

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

In the 1990s Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, developed a famous prediction from his theory that humans could have meaningful relationships with no more than 150 people at a time after he saw a correlation between primate brain size and the social groups they formed. In his TEDx talk from 2012 he explains how he came to this conclusion.

In the age of social media 150 friends might sound kind of low when you can have 5,000 friends on Facebook, unlimited followers on Instagram or Twitter, and LinkedIn stops showing how many connections you have when you exceed 500. Regardless of which platform you prefer, we are often not having meaningful conversations or spending time with all of the people we are connected to on social media. In fact, a 2004 study suggests that Americans are more isolated now than they had been in the 2 decades prior to the study citing "the number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled."

Dunbar goes on to describe that there are different layers to those relationships. You start with the 5 people closest to you and it’s likely that these are the people you would go to if you had a serious problem or needed support. Then he expands it to 15 people who you are pretty close with. Those 15 likely include your family and close friends. The next layer is 50 and then 150.

I propose that the number 50 is the tipping point for networking. Once you go beyond 50 people it is difficult to maintain a meaningful connection with those people because you have a finite amount of time to invest in building meaningful connections. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, if you are a recruiter and you spend the majority of your career making connections with people then you are more likely to be able to maintain more relationships because you have time during your workday.

Thanks to technology we can automate how we maintain the relationships that are most important to us and attempt to challenge Dunbar’s Number although it appears his research might actually be behind the way social networks are built. So maybe it is not an accident that Facebook decided to cap out your friends list at 5,000.

Here are the top 3 ways I have gone from knowing 2 people when I first moved to New York City to building a network of hundreds of interesting people in the last year:

  1. Be intentional about the types of people you want to meet and go to events that have a theme or a purpose other than general networking.
  2. Start a list of your top 50 and update it at the end of each year.
  3. Follow up with your top 50 at least once every 3 weeks. This means you will make at a minimum 7 impressions on them each year. The number 7 first became significant in the 1930s in the movie industry when studios discovered the amount of advertising and promotion that is required to compel someone to see one of their movies, later referred to as the marketing Rule of 7 by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

What are your favorite ways of remembering to follow up with people and making time to do it? Please share your comments below, I learn just as much from you as you do from me.