Remember that classic comedy, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, where Matthew McConaughey’s character makes a bet that he can make a girl fall in love with him in just 10 days? Meanwhile, Kate Hudson’s character is doing the exact opposite, as she does everything in her power to repulse him so he’ll dump her. Well, professional networking can be the same way, except we’re all secretly Matthew McConaughey and instead of making someone fall in love with us in 10 days, we’re trying desperately for someone to see our value in just one lunch hour.
We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling the Chamber’s events calendar for an event that piques your interest—an event that’s topical, relevant, and during the lunch hour so you don’t need to skip out of work during your busiest time. You ask your co-workers if they’d like to join, but they’re all too busy. You register anyway because a girl’s gotta eat (and you’re an independent woman). But what happens when you put on your favourite power shoes— you know, the pointy-toed red pumps you snagged from the local consignment shop—and show up to that event to make a new connection? Who do you talk to? What do you say? Where do you sit? Here are some pointers from two women who have frequented a networking event or two (or 90 between September and June, but who’s counting?) on how you can come out looking like Mr. McConaughey.
First, it’s important to set reasonable expectations on what you plan on getting out of the event. This way, you’re setting yourself up for success. Is your goal to connect with one new person on LinkedIn? Is it your mission to have a conversation with the keynote speaker following the event? Or is it to simply enjoy lunch in good company? Either way, you’ll make the most organic connections by going into the event with an open-minded and focused attitude.
Remember in Mean Girls when Regina George snaps at Cady Heron in the cafeteria and shouts, “You can’t sit with us!”? Don’t be Regina George. If the event you’re attending is open seating and your company hasn’t reserved a table, encourage other networkers to sit down with you! Take your purse off the chair and make eye contact with someone who is scanning the room for a spot. Smile, say hi, and introduce yourself. That person will feel relieved that you’ve welcomed them.
Now you’ve found someone you’d like to talk to. A smile, a firm handshake, solid eye contact, followed by a short introduction about who you are and what you do may lead into some awkward small talk, but it doesn’t have to! Ask questions to find out more about the person, be genuine, and find like interests you can build on. Start off with an easy question like “What brings you to this event?” to break the ice. Then you can build on those interests! Did you both go to Laurier? What year did they graduate? Asking open-ended questions encourages people to open up and speak to what they feel is important. Don’t be afraid to share your passions and foster memorable conversations.
Is this networking event a little more casual? Is there a bar? No? Then why are you there… but seriously, even if you’re not drinking, positioning yourself by the bar is a great way to strike up an organic conversation with someone who is waiting for their drink.
You know those business cards your company gives you on the first day that are stashed away in a white box in the middle drawer of your desk? These cards are little nuggets of information that will help you maintain your new connection. Did the person reveal something unique about their profession or their personal life? Write it on the back of their card so you can remember when you follow up! The universe has spoiled us with countless opportunities to maintain relationships. Handwritten thank you notes, a simple phone call inviting the person for coffee, an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, or inviting that person to the next Chamber event as your guest are all great ways to establish your relationship beyond this initial interaction.
Finally, and most importantly, is to remember that you are a beautiful, unique, make-it-happen-at-all-costs, motivated woman who can accomplish virtually anything you set your mind to, as long as you continue to be your authentic self. Don’t forget, you are Matthew McConaughey.
This article was written by Aislynn Cooper & Teri Egerdeen for the Women of Merit 2018 Publication. View this incredible publication here.