13 Tips For Your First Networking Event

Kelly Samardak (@socialmedium)
Mashable NYC Event Photo cred: Kelly Samardak

I recently attended the Mashable NYC event which was in fact my first professional networking event (not counting those completely useless job fairs).  As a first timer, I had no idea what to expect.  Is this going to help me? Are people going to take a college student seriously? How should I dress? Am I going to know what to say?

Well I set my doubts aside (big step), signed up for the event, attended and could not be more happy with my decision.  I can now provide you with some answers based on MY experience. Of course, everyone’s experience is different.  This will apply more to younger professionals, specifically college seniors, who are looking to expand their network in social media. Here are 13 things I learned…

  1. Make connections before the event. My night would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t connected with attendees before the event.  Most events will have a list with contact info for anyone attending the event. Don’t be afraid to send them an email or look them up on twitter and tell them you’re going to the event and wanted to connect with some people before hand.  It’s a huge confidence booster to see some familiar faces when you first arrive.
  2. Dress semi-casual. One of the things I love about the social media / interactive industry is how laid back it is. Don’t show up in a t-shirt and jeans but you don’t have to wear a shirt and tie either. A nice, clean sweater or button down and khakis or nice jeans will do just fine.
  3. Get there early. If you walk in late, you’ll find it harder to meet people who are already engaged in conversations, and you’ll miss out on whatever free promotions are provided (Peroni sponsored the Mashable event).  Everyone likes to have a drink to take the edge off at these events and if you miss the free drinks, be ready to pay (a lot) for them.
  4. Go Alone! This is something that I was torn over when going to this event.  Now that I went alone, I can say with full confidence that you should not bring a friend with you to a networking event.  It’s tough going to a social event without a wingman but if you bring one, you’ll find it is nothing more than an excuse to talk to them instead of meeting new people.

    wearenommashev
    Photo cred: Kelly Samardak
  5. Be creative. Think of something creative that will make you stand out and help break the ice, commencing conversation. The best example I saw was Arthur Bouie representing We Are Nom who carried around a basket of cookies to give out. They were a hit…and delicious.
  6. State your goal first. Everyone at the event is there for the same thing you are, to make some new connections that may provide future business opportunities and share ideas.  Whether you’re there to look for job, hiring, or collaborative opportunities, the first words out of your mouth should be your name, what you do and why you’re there.
  7. Pick up a nametag. duh right? Well I didn’t even notice the nametag table since it was so crowded until Colleen Eddy was kind enough to point it out to me. Here’s a tip that combines #5 and #6: Write what your goal is on your nametag! I simply wrote “I NEED A JOB!”nametag2 under my name and it worked like a charm. The name tag is the first thing everyone looks at when walking around and people started approaching me!
  8. Be prepared to tell people exactly what you can do for them. This was one of the most common questions I was asked and I regrettably have to admit that I wasn’t fully prepared for it.  As a college student, I expected to only be qualified for entry level jobs where you’re pretty much told what you need to do.  There were a lot of people however that wanted to know what services I would provide for them.  You may know what you can do for companies but you have to be able to convey it to them in a clear and precise manner.
  9. Relax! I don’t know how networking events are in other industries, but the social media crowd is typically very friendly and obviously loves to talk!  Don’t be afraid to go right up to someone and say hi! You will only be received with a big smile and a hand shake.  I had some great, in depth conversations that stemmed from a simple, “hi, I’m Dave =D”.
  10. Bring business cards and a pen. These are really the only things you need on your person.  When someone gives you a card, after you’re done talking to them write a note on the card to help you remember who they are and what you spoke about.  I didn’t do this and found it difficult to match faces to cards from memory when I got home.
  11. Know when to stop talking. Some people you meet will want to have long, interesting conversations with you.  Others will want to know who you are, what you do, get your information, and move on to the next person.  It’s not hard to pick up on the vibe that someone doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.  Say “it was great to meet you” and move on.
  12. Send e-mails the next day. I’d say that you have about 2 days before someone completely forgets about you if no further communication is attempted.  While you’re fresh in your new contacts’ minds, drop them an email.  Keep it short and sweet, tell them how great it was to meet them, and if you’re looking for a job, attach your resume.
  13. Don’t wait until after graduation! I very well may have been the youngest person at the event, but I received only positive feedback.  People thought it was great that I was networking before I graduated.  Most professionals were impressed and commended my enthusiasm.  I made some great connections with some amazing people and created job opportunities come graduation in May.  It’s never too early to start networking. (Well you have to be 21 to attend most networking events but you can still network in other ways!)

If you’re a college senior and you’re thinking about attending a networking event but can’t bring yourself to go, then please just trust me and GO!  You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain from connecting with like-minded professionals.

Feel free to comment with your own tips and experiences.  Would love to hear about YOUR experience at your first networking event!

You can find the rest of Kelly’s picture set from the Mashable event here.