5 Ways to Break the Ice at Networking Events
Networking is not about how many resumes or business cards you hand out, but how you establish rapport and build a relationship that can lead to opportunities.
Attending a networking event is only the beginning of the networking process. Effective networking takes time and builds lasting relationships where both parties can help one another.
Many job seekers I often speak with are intimidated by networking events. It’s not that they do not want to network; it’s that they don’t know how to approach people they don’t know.
As much as we all want to know how others can help us, when networking, it’s not recommended for you to go straight into pitching. It’s a turnoff to many people, especially when you don’t know the person.
So, how does a job seeker tackle breaking the ice at networking events and approach people in a way that later affords relationships where they can help one another?
- Change your mindset: Think of networking as a chance to get to know others and as a place where you can seek advice from someone who may come with a different point of view. As you show interest in others and ask for advice, the conversation will naturally redirect itself in a manner where others will be more willing to help you or connect you to people who can help.
- Mind your appearance: Walk in to a networking event with the appropriate attitude. Appear approachable and be willing to approach others. The simplest things you can do is offer a smile to people you come in eye contact with and avoid poor body language such as crossing your arms or keeping your head down.
- Ask a mutual acquaintance for help: Asking a mutual friend or acquaintance to help with an introduction is one of the easiest ways to help get a conversation started between two people who don’t know one another. After the introduction, it’s up to you to build rapport and find out possible commonalities that will help both of you establish a relationship.
- Directly introduce yourself: If there is a contact you know something about, you may want to approach them directly with an introduction. Introduce yourself by full name and appropriately ask a question or make a comment. For example, the person may have just given a presentation, so you may ask a question or comment related to what was discussed. As the conversation between the two of you becomes more comfortable, steer the conversation toward a direction where you may ask for advice.
- Ask a general question or provide comment: You are not the only one who may be feeling awkward at the networking event. If you see someone simply standing there or sitting at a table by themselves, be willing to approach them and simply ask a question or provide a comment that they could relate to. It can be a simple statement such as, “Wow, this event has a big attendance turnout!” This opens the door for conversation. After two or three more questions or comments, you can go in and say, “By the way, my name is… What’s yours?” From there, your conversation can change focus where you learn more about the other individual and share information about yourself.
A key to breaking the ice during networking is to establish a relationship where the other individual grows to feel comfortable speaking with you. Keep all questions open-ended and leave comments that allow others to probe. A question or comment that leaves one to simply have room to say “yes” or “no” will not help build a conversation.
To succeed at networking events, leave people you meet with a good impression. You want people to feel your positive energy and to see that you are willing to help others, as well as have a special area of expertise that they will potentially want your advice and counsel on in the future. This will help ensure the relationship and conversation you have continues to grow after you leave the event.