Navigating Your First Networking Event
Updated: Feb 2, 2018
By: Lauren Marhefka, Director of Fundraising
Networking events are a fantastic opportunity to not only get out of your comfort zone, but also meet many people that can help you find your path to success. However, the idea of approaching a complete stranger and trying to introduce yourself can be extremely intimidating, and at some times downright terrifying.
I had always heard of the importance of attending networking events knowing the many benefits that would come out of it. At the same time, I would always find an excuse to not go to these events. In reality, I was worried about feeling like Jack Sparrow in the gif below, and the professionals being the group chasing him.
I finally decided I needed to put on big girl pants and put myself out there. Fortunately, my first networking event went better than I could have imagined. That being said, here are my key takeaways from networking events you should keep in mind before you attending your first event.
Practice small talk
The worst possible thing that could happen to you during a conversation at a networking event is coming across the dreaded awkward silence. This happened to me a few times at the event I attended, and while we were both able to laugh it off and move past it, it certainly made my confidence drop. To avoid this, practice small talk with anyone you can. Create a list of possible questions you can always ask, and if you can in the moment, try to deepen the conversation. Don’t ask anything that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Know exactly who you want to talk to at the event, and do your research on them.
With most networking events that I have come across, you can access a list of professionals who will be attending that event. If one or a few of those names stick out to you on the list, keep that as your motivation to kill it at the event and research them. Doing your research prior will help you have talking points when initiating a conversation. As mentioned above, the last thing you want to deal with is awkward silence, so if you can prepare yourself in advance for talking to someone, the more confident you’re going to feel.
When in doubt, talk with some of the other students or younger people there.
If you don’t necessarily feel comfortable going up to the Vice President from a huge company, that’s okay! Instead of just standing around sipping on some water, go talk to someone who might be just as nervous as you are. During networking events I’ve attended, I just stood back and looked for someone I felt comfortable starting a conversation with. Little did I know, the person I started talking to would soon be starting an apprenticeship with Villanova athletics and wanted to stay in contact due to my connections with professional sports and hers with collegiate athletics. You never know who you might meet or how they can help you in the future, so try to make the most of the situation!
If you don’t have them already, invest in business cards!
Never in a million years did I think that at 21 years-old I would have my own personal business card. To be honest, I always kind of laughed at the idea because I thought it was too excessive but it will help you stay connected with the professionals you meet. Face the facts, we’re terrible at memorizing information especially when it comes to putting a face with someone’s name, a phone number or an email address. Having a business card and taking them with you to an event like this will be an absolute lifesaver for when it comes to following up with individuals. It also makes you feel so much more professional than you think.
On the inside, you might be trying to figure out a game plan on how to escape the room, call an Uber, head home and get back in your pajamas to watch Netflix. However, do not let this show on the outside. If you want to leave a lasting impression, you have to be confident in yourself and in what you have to bring to the table for someone. Even if that means going in the bathroom and giving yourself a pep talk, do it. I promise it will help.