How do you meet people at a dinner or networking event? How do you approach a total stranger without coming off too aggressively or being seen as looking to make a contact to better one’s self?
Steve Boyle of No Excuses, No Regrets Basketball, asked me that question via email a few months ago, and I’m only now getting a chance to answer it. But it’s such a good question that I didn’t want to limit the answer to just an email.
How to network without appearing needy
First, some of this is all about attitude and self-esteem. You need to believe you’re someone worth meeting. You’ve got something to contribute, some value you can add to someone else’s life. You don’t have to be a game changer or that one key person who is going to send their life on a different path. You just have to believe that you’re worth talking to for a few minutes, and that you are worth meeting again later. If you believe it, the next step is to actually meet someone.
The best way to introduce yourself? Walk up, extend your hand, and say, “Hi, my name is ______.” That’s it. Shake their hand, say your name. Ask them theirs if they’re less forthcoming than you, and then ask them what they do, or who they work for. Get them to talk about themselves, and let them do it more than you talk about yourself.
Relationships take time
If you find this is someone you want to get to know better — and it doesn’t have to be someone who can do something for you, it could just be someone interesting — ask them to coffee or lunch. Don’t feel like you have to spit out your entire life story and grand vision of success in those five minutes you have with them. That only puts people off and/or creeps them out.
Focus on who you’re meeting rather than etiquette
Next, if you’re at a business event, don’t worry that you’re breaking some etiquette about networking. That’s exactly what you’re there for: to make a contact to better one’s self. Whether it’s a chamber of commerce event, a conference reception, or a dinner event, people expect to approach and be approached. Feel free to do it. If they’re jerks and don’t want to talk, then walk away, and find someone who isn’t a jerk. You didn’t need to meet that person anyway. There are plenty of people who are more than willing to meet you and help you. Find them instead.
Be willing to introduce yourself to people
Finally, keep in mind that everyone you meet does not have to be the kind of person who can do something for you. Some people will have an immediate, obvious benefit — they run a large company, they make hiring decisions, they have access to people you want to meet — but others won’t have that obvious benefit, or they may have not immediate benefit at all — they’re new to a company, they’re unemployed, they just started their own company.
Meet those people anyway. For one thing, you may be the person they are looking to meet. For another, that person will not always be the newbie, the job seeker, or the budding entrepreneur. One day, they’ll be the director, the fully employed, or the successful business owner. If you were there when they needed you, they’ll be there when you need them.
So, be willing to introduce yourself to people. Make sure you’re doing it with an intention of serving and providing value, not trying to get something for nothing. Let them talk more than you, and arrange to meet them for coffee or lunch, so you can get to know them better.
Erik Deckers, is the co-owner and VP of Creative Services for Professional Blog Service in Indianapolis. Erik co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, and is working on a new social media book. Erik frequently speaks about blogging and social media for personal branding and small business marketing.