At the beginning of my career, I went to as many networking events as I could find in the DC metropolitan area. The goal of going to these networking events was to bring me out there, get to know other people in the industry, etc. The first event I ever went to, was a huge event (by my standards) that did not require membership.
But before we continue, let’s back up…
What is networking?
From my perspective, networking is when you come together with other people within your industry or within an area of interest to exchange resources.
How I network…
In my past, I have networked one on one, by direct engagement with the prospective client, or via a third-party introduction. However, when going to a networking event, where there may be over 200 people in a room, this can be both overwhelming and can be scary. For me, there are several reasons why:
1) How to know who to talk to?
As a civil engineer with a small business, there are limited people that I would need to exchange resources with at this time, especially considering the 30 min time window to network and the cost to get into the room, I want to be as efficient as possible. The ideal people that I usually look to exchange partnerships with include:
- Real Estate Developers
However, these events usually have people there that are outside my scope, and there is no way of knowing what they do before you shake their hand. So, you walk up to someone and say “Hi, I’m Gladys Sera, civil engineer” (or whatever your name is) and they say that they are also a civil engineer. I’ve heard some people say that they walk away, but I stay and as a result, gained insights, and they have even introduced you to other people that may be a future resource. Also, standing next to someone ended up giving me more confidence in the room and when other people walked to us speaking, it made for smoother conversations, especially with someone that is familiar with my profession and with speaking to one of the key people we are both there to meet.
2) People are only talking to people they know
When I go to these events, it seems as if everyone already knows each other and I am the new kid in the room. As a result, many of the people there only talk to and want to talk to people they already know. For example, I was in the middle of a conversation with a person I met, and a third person interjected, ignoring my presence (which I didn’t care about) and said, “oh hey… long time no see…” to him, and then that prospect just stopped speaking to me and continued with the new conversation. They even turned their backs on me to continue their discussion, ha!
But that did not discourage me because there are so many people that are eager to have a conversation with someone; so, I’ve walked up to groups of people in the middle of a discussion. Usually, people will only go to networking events with coworkers, so they have “someone to talk to” (I’ve heard this often considering I always go alone). However, I walked up to my former boss from a previous firm and as well-known he is in the industry and as busy as the last company always was, I noticed that he was still standing off by himself. At these events, there are so many people at networking events that are just standing around or just looking around trying to gain enough confidence to speaking to someone. Speak to them! Speak to anyone; you never know who they might be or what insight you’ll earn.
3) They won’t speak back
However, if they do not want to talk to you or are very short in their responses as if they are trying to get you to go away, my advice is to end the conversation and let it go. If there are over 200 other people in the room, with different temperaments, so don’t let one bad seed stop the party.
Overall, those are my top issues and solutions to networking at larger networking events.
– Gladys Sera, Phd, PMP, PE