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3/22/15 - 3 techniques for networking at big events

Dana Manciagli 

Recently, I attended the Puget Sound Business Journal's annual Book of Lists event, held at Seattle's beautiful Museum of Flight. It was a huge gathering, so I interviewed attendees for their insights on networking at big events.

Who was it that didn't have much fun? Well, extreme introverts. Granted, most introverts probably didn't register to attend in the first place. However, for those who braved the throngs of people, it was probably challenging to begin some new professional relationships.

I caught a few people standing in a dark corner behind the bar, pretending to check e-mail. Others were strolling through the museum exhibit pretending there was no event going on in the main hall. That's okay, I give them kudos for at least going. But for everyone else, there seemed to be three main strategies that worked well:

1. Have a networking goal

My first question was, "Why are you here?" And I got the standard, "Oh, this is a fun event at a great venue." But when I followed with, "What are you hoping to get out of networking here?" then the answers got much more interesting and meaningful. Tony Yee, vice president at Umpqua Bank, wanted to make people aware of his bank and to meet more people. Taji Degross, a Windermere Real Estate broker, is a recent Puget Sound Business Journal subscriber and came to see what's going on in the Seattle community.

Darrin Evans, an estimator with Snyder, is new to his industry as a result of a recent career change. So, he is eager to meet contractors and others in the construction industry. Kate Chan is a co-founder of the Seattle Women in Technology (WIT) organization, and although she also has a full-time job, she came to this event to find future speakers for WIT as well as future members.

In general, each of these attendees had a goal when it came to networking, and they had enough awareness to recognize and advance that goal without being pushy.

2. Approach total strangers

Ironically, the bigger the event, the harder it is to meet total strangers, and even more difficult if you have a specific targeted need like Evans, who was looking for those in the construction industry. I asked him for his top trick and he said that he relied on the nametags.

That can be tricky, as many people were talking to other people, so name badges aren't easy to see. Andrea Driesen, Chief Boredom Buster with No More Boring Meetings wears a button on her lapel that says "NO BOREDOM" and that is a great conversation starter. She recommended "looking open and saying hello."

Almost everyone said they make eye contact and say hello, but it takes one person to stop and make an introduction!

3. Know the challenges

Networking techniques are not just about learning what people do successfully. Sometimes just hearing the challenges that even the most experienced networkers face is helpful. In the hundreds of networking events I have attended, some have been extremely rewarding and others were simply duds. There are so many factors, ranging from the event layout to my own attitude that day or evening.

Some challenges that attendees can face are knowing when to break into a seemingly established group, finding something in common, maintaining a good attitude and being open to new ideas. Another challenges can be exiting a conversation gracefully. For some people, showing off a friendly and outgoing personality can be misinterpreted as flirting, so it's important to make sure you emphasize that you're there to build professional relationships.

Parting words of wisdom

There are many ways to make big events work for you. Here are five that I picked up that I'll use at future events:

Be interested, not interesting. 

Be the one to start the conversation, walk up to groups and introduce yourself. 

Have one or two "go-to" questions that you like to ask. Mine is, "What brought you to this particular event?"

Always have lots of business cards and ask for cards if they are not offered; if your contact is out of cards, write the information down.

Connect with those you met on LinkedIn within 24 hours and request a follow up meeting to begin building a long-term relationship.

What are your big event networking tips and challenges?


Dana Manciagli is a career expert, speaker and private coach. She has spent more than 30 years as a Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive, now retired after more than a decade at Microsoft. Dana is the author of the book, "Cut the Crap, Get a Job!" and a prolific blogger. She sits on the worldwide board of Junior Achievement and has her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.