We’ve all been there: you enter a dimly lit room full of strangers wearing name tags; you don’t know anyone, so you make your way to the bar and order a drink then stand around awkwardly, pretending to check emails on your phone before bolting for the door.
Networking events don’t have to be intimidating, and they can actually be great ways to make new connections, get new ideas, and expand your network for future job searching. Here are a few tips to make the most out of networking events with as little pain as possible.
Realize that almost everyone feels out of place
Sure, we all know that one person who is somehow able to strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere about anything, but most of us aren’t that person.
If you’re in a networking situation where you don’t know anyone, look for another person who looks out of sorts, introduce yourself and ask what they thought of the program, what their company does, or what brought them to the event. Approaching someone who is feeling as uncomfortable and left out as you are will make you the instant hero.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of that kind of interaction, I can tell you that it’s extremely welcome. I attend InVision events often, and I’m always relieved when someone strikes up a conversation with me.
It doesn’t matter how or why they walk up to me. I’m just immediately relieved to not be standing alone, wondering how all these other folks immediately made friends. Even if the conversation doesn’t last long, it can break the ice for both of you, giving you the gumption to chat up others.
“Approaching someone who is feeling as uncomfortable and left out as you are will make you the instant hero.”
Go for the demos, talk to the staff
Most networking events are put on by companies looking to engage with current and prospective customers. This presents a built-in opportunity to meet new people and learn about new things. Most people aren’t into being given a sales pitch, but odds are that if you’re at a cocktail hour, the pitch is going to be more educational than pushy.
We’ve been doing demos of our newest products, Studio and Design System Manager, at our Design+ Drinks events in cities around the world, and most people have welcomed the opportunity to learn more about what we’re doing in a low-key and educational way. Because we set the demos up throughout the networking room, people can wander in and out, ask questions, or just look like they’re paying attention while they scan the room for someone they know.
Plus, even if you’re not interested in the product being demoed, it’s always nice to see what other companies are up to to give you ideas for your own work.
Talk about work
Yes, this is one of the social environments where talking about work is highly encouraged. The other is when your brother-in-law asks you to create a free website for his awesome new business idea, and you have to convince him that design does actually take time and cost money.
Networking events are an excellent place for designers to hear about how other teams are working: You’re struggling with something at work. Ask the advice of your new friends. New friends can be the most candid and you can learn what other groups are doing, as well. You might hear just the advice you need to get unstuck on that big project or how to finally sell design sprints to your C-team.
Don’t forget to follow up
One trick I’ve been employing this year is taking photos with my phone of name badges at events. That way, I don’t have business cards to hold on to that I’ll only eventually throw away, and it’s easy to connect with the people I’ve met on LinkedIn the next day.
I try to connect with everyone I had any kind of a meaningful interaction with within 24 hours (before it all just blurs together). I send a simple message: “It was great connecting with you at Design + Drinks last night! I’d love to stay in touch and hear more about that design system your company is working on.” You never know when you might need a contractor, a job lead, or just an extra opinion on a project.
What are your top tips for making the most of networking events? Share with us on Twitter.
Stephanie is a copywriter for InVision. She hails from the humid land of Elvis (that's Memphis, TN, for the uninitiated), where she lords it over her two dogs, three cats, and one bearded husband, all while continuously talking about herself in third person.