Approaching strangers at networking events can seem intimidating, but shying away from interaction means you could be missing out on some great business opportunities. Here are some ways you can comfortably approach people and make a good first impression.
It’s essential that you know the nature of the networking event you plan on attending. Make sure that you know the meeting agenda, workshops available, dress code, revent schedule, and the host, companies and people that will be attending. If particular participants stand out to you, do some background research on them to get an idea of what they do and who they are so that you can narrow down who to talk to and what to talk about when you see them.
People are more likely to want to talk to you if you look approachable. Try to avoid standing in the corner avoiding eye contact with people, and instead placing yourself somewhere others can see you. Studies have shown that people are 86 percent more likely to talk to strangers on the street if they’re smiling, so don’t be afraid to keep a smile on your face, especially when someone looks your way.
Ask open-ended questions
Open ended questions are more likely to sustain a longer conversation and help you build rapport with someone more quickly. Close-ended questions that require one or two word answers may be useful for establishing basic facts about the other person (e.g. what do you do? Where did you study?), but mixing in open-ended questions that allow you to talk descriptively and passionately can prevent the conversation from getting stagnant or dull.
Be an active listener
With so many conversations, events, and people, networking events are often full of distractions. However, when you engage with someone, it’s important that you don’t let what’s going on around you distract you from listening. Try to remember their basic details, such as their name and company, so that you can recall them later if you see each other again and demonstrate your interest and polite character. Make appropriate eye contact with the person you’re talking to and ask them relevant questions about what they’re saying to show your engagement.
Ending a conversation can be awkward for both parties, and you may fear that you’re being rude if you initiate the goodbye. Remember that parting ways is a normal part of a conversation, and the other person may be just as keen to go and explore the rest of the event as you are. The easiest time to end an interaction is when there is a lull in the conversation. When this happens, politely let the other party know that it was a pleasure to meet them and thank them for their time. If you would like to connect later on, you could suggest a future meeting, exchange details, give them your business card, or send them a message on LinkedIn.