It won't be long until your next cocktail hour, conference or reception. There is no value to attend these by standing in a corner, clutching your drink and waiting for it to be over. They are networking events. But how do you network, you ask? How do you break the ice with total strangers? Consider the following tips:
Bring a friend. Bring someone you know with whom you can talk between mingling with others. You will feel less nervous if you have someone you know nearby. However, make it clear to your friend that the purpose of the event is to network. Don't fall into complacency and spend the entire night speaking with your friend.
Look for a friend. Odds are that you know someone at the event. When you spot her, she will likely be in a small group. Walk up, re-introduce yourself and introduce yourself to the others in the group. You have now met several new people you can get to know.
Come early. It is easier to meet new people when there are fewer people to meet. Arrive early and you will likely find a number of individuals by themselves, like you, that you can walk up to and start a conversation with.
Lines are a great place to meet people. When standing in line to get a drink or standing at the buffet table, make a point to introduce yourself to those in front and behind you.
Work the room. Make a point to make your way around the room, making an effort to speak to folks you do not know. You will find that most people at the event are there for the same reason you are - to network.
Stay engaged.When you are in a conversation, stay engaged. Do not constantly be looking over a person's shoulders in search of someone else. No one likes to feel that they are simply filling time for you while you look for someone more interesting or more important with whom to speak.
Bring business cards. Make sure you bring enough business cards to hand out. When you receive one in return make sure to study it a second and make a connection between the card and the person handing it to you. Also, to the extent you promise someone you are going to send them an article you wrote, put them in contact with someone else or provide them information, make a point to write that down on the card they hand you. It will serve as a reminder to you and it will show them that you are conscientious and plan on carrying out your promise.
Follow up with hand written notes. When you return to your office, send handwritten notes on personal stationary to the folks you met. No one writes notes anymore. They will be remembered.
With a little planning and a little effort, you can make your next networking opportunity a successful one.