How to improve your networking skills at big events

In business, it’s all about who you know. That’s why networking is such an important skill to master. Whether you’re chatting with someone in an elevator or attending an industry conference, you never know who you’ll meet — and that’s precisely why you start the conversation.

You might be new to the practice, or you might be an experienced networker. Either way, there’s always room for improvement — here are six ways to hone the skill and shine at your next networking event.

1. Be a Good Listener

You might think networking is all about what you say, but listening is actually an essential skill to bring to your next event. The person with whom you’re speaking will tell if you’re not paying close attention to what they’re saying. Ask thoughtful questions in response to what you hear is one way to show you’re listening. Exhibit open body language. Smile. These are all ways to show you’ve listened to everything they said.

Not only will your listening skills make a good impression, but you’ll gain something from them, too. You’ll learn about the person you’re speaking to, and you’ll figure out quickly what value you can gain from one another. Plus, you’ll build a valuable connection much more quickly this way.

You won’t simply exchange business cards and scuttle off — you’ll remember their name, and you’ll more likely connect later, too.

2. Have a Real Conversation

To that end, try and cultivate a genuine connection at your next networking event. All of your conversations don’t have to be industry-related — in fact, schmoozing this way can leave a bad taste in your mouth afterward.

So, ask people questions about themselves and their lives. You might find a lasting connection based on your family lives, interests or upbringing. That commonality will be what forges a relationship outside of the event, not the fact you spent five minutes talking about your business and the industry in which you work.

3. Prove You’re Trustworthy Rather Than Successful

You might think that potential connections will want to work with you because of your proven track record of success. But at a networking event, it’s not about your bottom line — it’s about your perceived trustworthiness.

Think about it — a connection won’t want to put in a good word for you unless they think you will prove their recommendation right. Their reputations are on the line, too, so show that you’re worthy of their trust, build a real connection and see where it takes you.

4. Don’t Circulate Too Much

You might think you’re supposed to cycle from conversation to conversation at these types of extra-large networking events. However, circulating too quickly can be a bad look.

For one thing, you won’t remember what anyone’s saying if you move from one person to another as fast as you think you should. We’ve already covered the importance of listening, as well as the value of a genuine conversation. None of these must-dos will be possible if you talk to everyone in the room.

On top of that, other networkers will notice you always looking over their shoulder to see who else you can talk to. Needless to say, that’s not a good feeling to have, and it won’t reflect well on you as a connection. So, try and cultivate more in-depth conversations that mean something more to you both — that way, the relationships you make will stick.

5. Follow Up After the Fact

Some might argue that the networking event isn’t the most critical part of the process — the follow-up is. This is where the connection becomes stronger and solidified, as you offer up opportunities to work together, speak further, share contacts, etc.

Of course, there’s an art to the follow-up, too. You’ll want to craft the perfect email to each one of your new connections. It’s critical that you personalize every message, so the person knows you remember them and that you value the conversation you shared. But you don’t just want to send an email for no reason — make a valuable proposition with each message. Otherwise, why would they email you back if there’s no call to action?

6. Be Open to Anything

You’ll always have an idea of how a networking event will go. You might also go with a list of attendees you’d like to speak to. However, you’ll never know what will happen until you actually go, and your agenda could be squashed when you connect with someone unexpected. The best plan to have is no plan at all — instead, be open to speaking to anyone about anything. Merely being approachable could open doors you never knew were there.

7. Be You

No matter what, networking requires you to be yourself when you speak to, connect with and follow up with all the connections you make. Keeping these six tips in mind will make you even more comfortable and effective at the next networking event and beyond.