Whenever you first enter a conference, seminar, dinner party or any networking event for that matter, attack it like a pro. It is true that you never know who you will meet at any given place; and nothing is worse than finding out that you’ve spent an entire evening in the same room as someone you’d die to meet, but you didn’t realize it until the cab ride home. If you don’t want this to happen to you, here’s a little advice from someone who’s worked more rooms than she can count.
Do Your Research Before You Go
Before the big event, try to find out as much information about the function, the schedule of events and attendees as possible. Show the list to some industry people and have them help you decipher who’s who. Do some research so you have some background on the big players. The more information you have, the better prepared you are to hunt down the people you want to meet and have great conversations once you do.
Have a Goal or a Purpose
Besides knowing who you want to meet, know what you want to get out of those meetings. Are you looking for clients, industry contacts, funding sources, inside information, new friends? If you begin with an end in mind, you’re more likely to leave with what you went there for in the first place.
Have a Good Stack of Business Cards
If you show up at a major networking event without a business card or not enough of them, that will be the moment when you meet the person you most want to have one. Make sure you have a stack in your pocket, just avoid pulling them all out at once. It makes the card you are currently handing out a bit impersonal if it looks like you’ll be handing out a few dozen more by the end of the night.
Print Your Name and Company Clearly
If you are given a name badge that is not pre-typed, make sure that you write your name and company clearly in large letters. If you have to, have someone else write it for you. People like to visually scan name badges as they work a room, and you should too. If someone interesting walks by you, don’t hesitate to tap her on the arm and introduce yourself. Just let her know that you stopped her for a good reason or say something clever and try to draw her in with some amplified charm. If she can’t talk then, let her know you’d like to catch up with her a little later. Then look for a time when she’s alone or looks bored, and go!
Smile and Be Genuinely Nice to Everyone
Make sure that you are friendly and approachable from the minute you walk into the room. Make a point of talking to various people throughout the event, but mostly when you’re not working on a specific target. The more small talk you have in the beginning, the more comfortable you will be when it really counts.
Try to meet as many people who will be at the event before you get there. Executive assistants, conference organizers, PR people and board members are great people to know, especially when they can help you get acquainted with an event and introduce you to a few key people. The more people you know in a room, the better your chances of getting introduced to the people who could be most valuable to you.
Get to Know the Gatekeepers
Gatekeepers are people who control access to very important people. All too often they are people you would never even think of as having any power or access themselves. But don’t be fooled. Get to know the people who control the tickets, invitations, memberships or even VIP transportation and you’ve tapped into a gold mine.
Collect as many business cards from interesting people as you can. You can always sort through them later. If you want to stay in touch with anyone in particular, follow up with a brief card or note. There’s no better way for someone to remember meeting you (and want to meet again) than by being so courteous as to remember them first.
My last bit of advice is just to have fun. If you’re too serious and look too focused on meeting only a few select people you might insult others without realizing it, losing some great opportunities. Networking events can be dull and boring, but they can also be tremendously profitable and a blast if you meet the right people and learn to work a room like a pro.