Whether the idea of networking makes you nervous or excited, networking events are key opportunities to develop your career and professional connections.
From conference mixers to professional association meetups, taking some time to prepare for an event will set you up for success.
Why is it important to prepare?
- Feel less nervous: Preparation can calm the butterflies in your stomach and help you walk in with confidence.
- Make a good first impression: You never get a second chance to make a first impression; make sure it’s a good one. There’s a good chance – whether you know it at the time or not – that you’ll meet people important to your future.
- Avoid being at a loss for words: By taking the time to prepare, you’ll have ideas about what to say to start, continue, and end conversations with people.
Practice your professional introduction.
Often referred to as your “elevator speech,” your professional introduction should tell the person you are meeting a little about yourself and invite them into conversation.
Some tips to help you craft your professional introduction:
- Keep it short: Most run about 15-30 seconds long. No matter how succinct, make sure you use it in the appropriate context, such as when you first join a conversation or if someone asks what you do. You want to have a conversation and not deliver a monologue when networking.
- Include the facts: It might seem obvious, but be sure you include your name, where you work and your position. If you’re not working now or not in the career you want to be in, focus on compelling information about your career goals. Such as “I’m a business student excited about the field of marketing” or “I currently work in sales but am in the process of switching gears and going into data analytics.”
- Make it relevant: Share a little bit about yourself that’s relevant to the listener. This may change depending on your audience. For example, you may want to mention how many years you’ve been in the industry at a conference or professional association event. But if you’re at a volunteer event for the pet rescue you support, focus on what you do for the charity or why it’s important to you.
- Ask a question: The goal of your introduction isn’t to bombard the listener with information about yourself, it’s to start a conversation. Make sure you have a question in your back-pocket to ask at the end, such as: “What brings you here tonight?” or “I’d love to hear about what you do.”
Set a goal.
You may want to attend a professional association event to learn about the people in your field. If you’re job searching, you might be more focused on learning about the market and which companies might be hiring right now. Networking events are also great opportunities for people just starting out to discover the different disciplines in their field.
Once you know why you want to attend the event, create a specific goal for when you are there, such as:
- Introduce yourself to five people.
- Meet someone who works for a specific company and get their contact information.
- Get permission to follow up with someone for an informational interview.
- Make a genuine connection with at least one person in your field.
Don’t let your goal get in your way.
While it’s important to have a goal, be careful not to get too laser focused on it. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind while pursuing your goal:
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Collecting 100 business cards isn’t nearly as important or useful as making a sincere connection with even just one person in the room.
- Have a genuine interest in everyone you meet. Let’s say your goal is to meet people who work in project management. Remember that everyone you meet knows many other people. Someone in marketing or finance could be the contact that could potentially help you in the future.
- Be careful not to monopolize one person’s time. If you get a chance to meet the VP of marketing for Super Awesome Company, be appreciative of their time. Try to make an impression in just a few minutes, leave a business card if appropriate, and then politely move on. Save in-depth conversations for a follow-up meeting or informational interview.
Be prepared to talk about your work.
Beyond your professional introduction, you should be prepared to talk in detail about your work or educational credentials in case someone asks or the topic comes up. Be prepared to talk about yourself in terms of your accomplishments. These demonstrate your skills and abilities without just listing them. Include information most relevant to the topic and the person with whom you are speaking.
Learn how to talk about your accomplishments using the CARD model.
Be MORE prepared to listen and ask questions
Networking events are not the time to shine a spotlight on yourself. They are your time to meet and listen to others. The people you meet may become your coworkers, your boss, or your mentor or mentee. Learn as much about them as possible and follow up when you make a genuine connection.
Prepare questions in advance to make conversations easier, such as:
- Wasn’t the food tonight great? (Yes – it can be this simple to start things off!)
- What brought you to this event?
- Is this your first time at this type of event?
- Are you working on any interesting projects right now?
- What made you interested in this industry?
- What do you like most about your current work?
- What was the best company you have worked for?
- Would you mind if I followed up with you next week for an informational meeting?
Dress to impress.
Dress in clothes that make you feel good and confident while making sure what you wear is appropriate for the setting. If it’s a casual event, you don’t want to be the only one in a suit and tie when everyone else is in polos and khakis. If you’re not sure how casual or formal the event is, dress in layers. It’s easier to take off a blazer and roll up your sleeves than it is to turn a pair of shorts into slacks.
A little preparation goes a long way.
If you follow these preparation tips, you’ll be in a solid position to have a great networking event. Just remember to listen more, talk less, and focus on making meaningful connections.
Want to practice your professional introduction? Capella University students and alumni enjoy free, lifetime access to the Capella Career Center for career planning and advice.