We've all been there before: You attend a networking event, you fill in your name tag, and you're basically tossed into the deep end of the pool.
We’ve all been there before: You attend a networking event, you fill in your name tag, and you’re basically tossed into the deep end of the pool. Quickly, you find that most people in the room are looking for the same job and that you’ve already met many of them. If you’re attending alone, you also notice that most of the people are already chatting with their own friends and colleagues.
For introverts, a tribe to which I belong, the task of breaking into one of these conversations can feel like surmounting Everest. It’s enough to put you off face-to-face networking altogether. But we all know that networking is the fastest, most effective way to find meaningful work, so most of us grin and bear it.
However, networking doesn’t have to be such a chore, says Sandy Jones-Kaminski, a networking specialist and online marketing consultant. If networking events are not working for you, she says, perhaps it’s time for you to take control and hold your own event.
In her book, “I’m at a Networking Event — Now What???” Jones-Kaminski offers a chapter about how to throw your own networking event, providing valuable advice for those who are challenged in the party-hosting environment. Here are a few of her pointers.
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Invite only helpful people. Go through your email addresses and LinkedIn contacts from previous events and find out the ones who have best demonstrated “pay it forward” behavior — those who have volunteered help without asking for anything in return. You can also choose to invite people strictly in the same general field or try to mix things up with a few people in different professions, which can sometimes yield surprising connections.
Choose a neutral location. Don’t feel you have to bring everyone into your home, Jones-Kaminski says. A friendly bar or restaurant that is within a reasonable distance for most attendees may be the best option, she writes, as it is neutral territory and allows people to buy food and drink at their own pace. This also relieves you of any perceived obligation to provide food for everyone as host. Just be sure to warn the bar/restaurant manager about the expected number of attendees.
Invite more than you expect to attend. Much of this depends on the size of the venue, but Jones-Kaminski’s rule of thumb is to start with about 60 names. From that list, “30 [will] RSVP ‘yes’ or ‘maybe,’ and then about 10 to 15 usually show up,” she writes. “This size has turned out to be ideal because it makes it possible for most attendees to meet others and allows for some productive conversations.”
Be the universal ice-breaker. To start, provide name tags for people and a good set of felt-tip markers to make names legible, Jones-Kaminski says. Try to greet each person upon his or her arrival, or soon after. After that, she writes, the goal is to “mingle around as much as possible so as to set the example for the other attendees.” Since you know everyone’s names from the invite list, try to introduce people to get conversations moving. Make sure the wallflowers feel included, too.
Space events about two months apart. If the first event is a success, Jones-Kaminski recommends keeping up an every-other-month schedule. This interval “allows you plenty of time to meet and invite some new people in between the events,” she writes. Adding a few new names each time can keep the events from feeling stale and help boost the energy level for each meeting.