What’s the best way to build contacts at a networking event?

How to approach others at networking events and add to your valuable contacts book

I’m constantly being told that I should make the most of business networking events with a view to finding valuable contacts and potential new business. The trouble is, I’m useless at networking. What can I do to improve my mingling skills?

Emma Sargent and Tim Fearon write:

If you want to make the most of networking events, here are some golden nuggets for you. Implement these and you’ll never look back.

Think about why you’re going. What can you take from the event that will be of real value to you and your business? Prepare your introduction. One of the things you can be absolutely certain of is that you will be asked who you are and what you do. Make it brief. You’ve got 15 seconds at most! Write it out, time it and rehearse it until it feels entirely comfortable.

Plan your ‘ice breaker’ – an opening remark or question. The questioning areas you may want to plan for could include:

  • Their business background
  • The state of their business in the current environment
  • The main challenges facing them
  • Their main competitors
  • Their future plans and ambitions

On a practical front, make sure that you are well equipped with business cards, something to write on and a pen. Start off by introducing yourself to people who are on their own. This will allow you to warm up and get familiar with the environment in a relaxed fashion.

Approach smaller groups. This makes it easier for you to introduce yourself and engage with the individual members. Find out as much as you can about the people you are with and be prepared to offer any information, contacts, etc that may be useful to them.   

Ask for their business cards so that you can:

  • remember their names
  • have a record of who you talked to and how to reach them
  • use the back of the card to write down what you talked about, so that when you follow up you can remind them of your conversation

If your conversation reaches its natural end, or simply dies out, excuse yourself and move on.  You can always say something along the lines of, ‘It’s been great to meet you.  There are a number of other people I need to make contact with, so I hope you’ll excuse me.’ If you run into someone you’ve already met and can’t remember their name, simply say ‘Hello again. Remind me of your name’ and then remind them of yours.

If you find yourself back with someone you that you don’t want to spend any more time with, ask if they’ve met anyone especially interesting that you might like to meet. Or point out someone who you found interesting that might be useful for them to meet.

The real key to successful networking is to be really clear about your goals and to keep your focus of attention on other people and not on yourself.  Do this and you won’t have time to be nervous or anxious!

Follow up within 24 hours of the event. Most follow-up seems to be done via email or phone call these days.  If you want to make impact, follow up with a hand written note.  Finally, have fun!


Emma Sargent and Tim Fearon are founders of The Extraordinary Coaching Company and have just released How to Talk to Anyone, published by Pearson.

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