You’re at a networking event and you see the person you’ve been dying to meet. You really want to connect with them and pick their brain, but how do you earn it? You’ve tactfully positioned yourself here to meet someone you admire, so once you’re there you want to make the most out of this interaction. But how do you leave a good enough impression to where you potentially leave the door open for more time together in the future?
Here are the five best ways to network effectively at an event.
1. Pick your moment strategically
If the person you’re trying to meet is just walking off the stage, emotionally pumped up, and trying to catch their breath, this is not your moment. The same goes if they’re talking to someone else already and are clearly engaged. This awkward situation has probably happened to you: you’re in the middle of a deep conversation and out of the corner of your eye, you just see someone standing there staring at you. It’s an uncomfortable scenario.
Read their body language. If it seems like they’re just being polite to a swarm of people around them or they’re emotionally drained from speaking and need to decompress, now’s not the time to approach. It takes a slight transition period to go from speaking publicly to engaging in a one-on-one conversation. We see this with athletes all the time. They get interviewed right after catching the game-winning touchdown but they’re so pumped up their thoughts aren’t clear and their words are taken out of context. All that to say, pick a comfortable moment when they’re not surrounded by a group of people.
2. Choose the right time to speak to them
Sometimes you’re in a spot where you’re the only one around and you can get a great conversation in, but more than likely you are one of 10 people in a row asking for a word. Unless they can speak to the group, a one-on-one conversation probably isn’t happening. But if they are available, shake their hand and introduce yourself. Then compliment something specific about their work you resonate with or ask a deeper question about something they just presented. Whatever you choose, clearly show you have been following their work or their career.
If they’re swarmed by people, we recommend just shaking their hand, telling them something you appreciate about their work, and ask them if you can buy them a coffee at some point and talk to them for five minutes. Depending on the situation dinner or drinks may be appropriate too but be considerate that they likely have a full schedule ahead of them. If both of you are local, it could be appropriate to ask to meet for a coffee another day.
3. Choose what you’re going to say ahead of time
At the end of the day, you understand that time is worth money, so you want to talk with a specific person you admire, go see them, buy some of their time using common sense and respect.
When you do earn the opportunity to speak with them, say something specific about their work you appreciate or ask a clean, well thought out question. If you’re a coach and you want to talk about programming, make sure your comment or question is insightful and it isn’t something that has been asked a million times previously on their blog, podcast, or social media platform.
Have some questions ready to go so you don’t freeze when you say hello. Don’t, for example, pull your phone out and start filtering through your notes as they’re standing in front of you. Once you’ve said your piece, let the conversation flow naturally. You’re there to learn from them and create a relationship so give them plenty of space to talk and don’t interrupt them with additional questions.
4. Know when to exit the situation
Read their body language. If you see they’re not making eye contact anymore or they seem they’re removed from the conversation, say thank you and move on. This kind of signal doesn’t mean they don’t like you, but they may be burnt out, have somewhere to be, or you’ve simply taken up enough of their time. At these kinds of events, the person you want to talk about is usually the person everyone wants to talk to. Use your time wisely.
5. Connect with someone from their team
Maybe the person you want to talk to is consistently swarmed and you don’t have the right moment to talk to them. Or they’re not yet comfortable giving you their personal information. It’s better to create another avenue of success rather than make a poor impression. If they didn’t offer you their details by the time you’re done chatting but they have an employee there, simply connect with that person and create a continuous line of communication with them. It could prove fruitful in the long run. Maybe one of their employees is there, you can talk to them more on a peer to peer basis, and maybe earn the opportunity to receive an introduction later.
Finally, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and go for it. This information isn’t meant to scare you off from networking with the people you respect and look up to the most. But there is certainly a right way to go about it. Never underestimate the power of a strong reputation.