You can always spot a good networker. They're highly skilled at reading a lanyard at 100 paces, never forget their business cards and have a ready smile. They know that networking events are a great way to get out and meet new people and potential clients and don't squander an opportunity to do just that.
Arrive early: You may be tempted to slip in later when the event is in full swing but remember that it is often difficult to strike up conversations with people who are settled. What’s more, a late arrival may leave you looking and feeling like a blow in.
When you enter the room: Avoid close huddles of people who are clearly having a private or serious conversation. Instead, seek out people on their own or in small groups that look open and inviting.
Smile: Naturally, we are drawn towards people who look friendly. Smile and have your right hand free to shake with your new acquaintances. Chances are they're feeling shy too, so do your best to put them at ease by asking them some informal questions or by commenting on the event to get the ball rolling.
Introductions: Let others introduce themselves first and remember to show interest and enthusiasm in what they have to say. Even if you believe they are not related to your business, take the time to listen to what they're saying. Invite others on their own to join your group, too.
"So, what do you do?" People form opinions quickly, so it’s important to be both interesting and succinct. Could you explain your business idea to a potential investor if you just had 15 seconds to pitch it in an elevator? Equally, can you explain what you do in just a few, short sentences? It’s a challenge but one you should take time to work out. Afterall, no one wants to listen to a longwinded tale about your amazing journey to this wonderful point in your life. Instead, you need a soundbite, focusing on how you help people or businesses to improve, or how you can solve a problem. Interest them enough to ask further questions, so that it becomes less of a sales pitch and more of a conversation.
Time to get detailed: Now that you’ve gauged their interest you can go into more detail about what makes you different. Win them over by talking passionately about what you do - they'll remember you for your enthusiasm and positivity.
Getting to grips: Focus on finding out more about the other person and building a rapport. This is about sowing the seeds for what should be a growing relationship with your new contacts.
Keep calm: Don't panic if you feel you're not meeting enough people. Your plan is not to come home with fistfuls of business cards but some true connections and inspiration.
A graceful exit: It can be tricky to slip away without coming across as rude. Introduce the person to someone you know or have just met, or ask them to introduce you to someone you would like to meet. Alternatively, suggest heading over together to the refreshments or moving towards another group then make your break.
Before you part: Exchange contact information (yes, having a nice business card is essential) and pledge to follow up. Reach out to them within 48 hours and send them on some information that might be useful, for example, refer them to that article you discussed.
Remember: Networking can be fun and enjoyable once you stop putting pressure on yourself to sell and focus instead on meeting some great people. Make the right impression today and they might even hire you or help you land a fab job in the future.
Zoe Healy is a PR, events and communications professional and delivers presentation and media training through her business, Zenith PR. Follow her @zoehealy