In this two-part post, I will be sharing with you what I wore to that event and how to nail networking events. Last night, I raised this question as part of our Talk Tuesday series so get ready to see what our contributors said as well as my tips for successfully networking.
My outfit for Trends and Tastings Wedding Vendor Networking Event by Aisle Perfect
It all starts with a thought. "How do you feel right now" and "How do you want to feel at the event" is my recommended recipe for getting dressed to any event. As humans, I know we are tempted to think "How do I want people to perceive me?". While this may be valid, it doesn't have to be the only guide for dressing for a networking event.
I strongly encourage you to always dress starting from the inside and whatever ideal(s) you truly project will be immensely felt. It's not always about slaying and having everyone staring at you. You can receive a ton of compliments but it won't mean anything if you don't really feel good in what you are wearing.
I threw on a white shirt dress because I felt very playful at the moment and I wanted to be in light spirits at the event. This is a bit of an irony because it was a networking event so in a way, you're expected to look serious and act professional so as to be taken seriously. But that's not what I was feeling so I had to scrap such a thought. My playful yet uber stylish look was a win in my books. It gave me space to network and be friendly. Dressy casual best sums up my entire look.
I took lots of shoefies when I was a block away from the event because it hit me that by the time the event ends, it would be dark. Phone in hand, I got to work but didn't quite get a full body picture till after the event. Thanks to my unplanned photographer who saved the day. I definitely wasn't going to get dressed in this outfit all over again to take blog pictures. Nope!
How to Nail Networking Events
Networking can be quite daunting but it doesn't have to. You can think of all the bad things that can happen when you are trying to interact with people but you can also think of and dwell on the positive aspects.
I'll start by sharing an embarrassing moment I had at this event. In the spirit of networking and meeting new people and getting out of my comfort zone, I jumped into a group photo. It's not something I normally do and it's not something that hasn't happened to a lot of people before. But this particular lady came up to me and asked if I was an alumni of so-so-so and when I said "No", she said "oh, that's what this picture was for" in the most demeaning way and walked away before I could even comprehend. If someone jumped into my alumni group picture, I certainly wouldn't have reacted this way.
This killed my joy. But only for one second. I didn't allow it to get past that because it would have affected my mood for the rest of the evening. I started by telling you this because most times when we are afraid of doing something, it's the negative aspects that scare us so if you are reading this as someone who is shy of networking, yes, you will absolutely be handed a lot of crap, most times on a platter of gold but you need to know what to walk away from and what to deal with. You will always meet people who don't know how to talk, whether in the work place or school or church, wherever. These bad eggs shouldn't stop you from going out to build your network.
Your number one reason for networking should be to make new and meaningful connections. If it's not meaningful, trash it.
Matter of fact, we took this question to Talk Tuesday yesterday and here are the responses, before I chime in.
There, you have it. Three tips from people who feel networking is and should be a breeze.
But what if networking isn't your jam? I'll help you out.
- Be genuine. The moment you step foot in the venue, have at least one goal in mind - to meet someone in your profession, line of business or to just make new friends.
- Don't think numbers. Often times, we go to networking events with the hopes of giving every single person our contact information. Wrong!!! Spend as much time as you need connecting with that one person who is on your wavelength and by wavelength, I mean someone who totally and completely resonates with you (not someone who has the same number of followers as you as a lot of people use followers as a yardstick these days. We aren't here for the social media foolery please, real connections only).
- When in doubt, start with a compliment. Have you been trying to connect with somebody that seems a tad bit unreachable at the event (maybe the event organizer or a well known speaker who has a line of people waiting to speak with him/her about their problems)? Try paying them a compliment (a genuine one). If you don't notice, compliments almost always stop people in their tracks because they'd like to respond to you. You can use the remaining seconds you have before the person spins away to introduce yourself and what you do.
- Aim to listen, not to be heard. Yes, we all want people to see our shining lights. We've all been told of the elevator speech and how you need to be ready to drop this at any moment. I don't have an elevator speech because I found out that in your attempt to blurt out your life story to this person who may not be interested, you might miss out on something vital they had to say.
- Try and find a point of interest. Having an elevator speech may hinder this because if you don't somehow mention something that connects you to this person as you ramble on and on, they may lose interest. So you don't have to have an elevator speech. Instead, you should know yourself in and out so well that you can have the right follow up words in any conversation. For example, if I went up to someone at this wedding event, introduced myself as a stylist (which I did) and went on and on, I may have missed out if the person responded "I am an Engineer". But if I spoke and gave them the chance to talk about themselves like point 4 says, then we would have found out during our discussion that we are both engineers and then, the rest of our conversation would flow. It is not compulsory to find a common point of interest, but it helps a lot. I actually find it exciting to learn about other people's fields.
- One meaningful conversation is all you need. I like having a natural flow in conversations and yes, sometimes you really want to share your contact information with that prospective client who is walking out of the door so you hurriedly mumble 2-3 words and shove your business card in his/her hands. It happens. There is no 100% formula and you will do this consciously or unconsciously.
My greatest advise is to seek to have one meaningful conversation at any networking event. That one person can open you up to so many opportunities and vice versa, or you may end up doing amazing work together.
- Be willing to learn - about other people, about what they do, about what makes them happy or what makes them tick. This is a reiteration of point 4 which says you should strive to be a good listener, only that this time, we are placing emphasis on learning. Make sure you walk away with something you didn't know before or a deeper or fresher knowledge/perspective of something you already knew.
I'll tie these points together with a personal experience. I met Jessica of Harmony in Happenstance at an event last year. It was a Day of the Girl event held at the Google office in DC. If I had gone up to her with an elevator speech, I probably wouldn't have mentioned that I was a wedding stylist because it was not a wedding event. I couldn't even guess that her niche was wedding photography, since she was the photographer for the event. But I asked her what she does (Step 4: Aim to listen, not to be heard) and with her response "I am a wedding photographer", I was then able to pull out my "I am a wedding stylist" card and I want to say the rest is history but I won't. I told her right then that I was looking to do a styled shoot soon and she told me she had never done a styled shoot before. Refer to Step 6 and you will notice that I had landed my one solid conversation for the evening.
Of course, I don't have to tell you to follow up. FOLLOW UP!
Sending an email is nice, to remind the people how you met them and where. But sometimes, we forget to follow up (or get lazy) which is totally understandable. Just try and pick out at least one contact and send an email or have a space where you save business cards. I have a full business card rack on my table.
You never know when you will need your contacts. It helps if you can genuinely connect with one or two people at networking events. Else, save their contact info and reach out to people whenever you need them; the response might be different though.
I hope this post helps you get up and out to your next or first networking event. To see the event recap of Trends and Tastings by Aisle Perfect, go here.
If you ever run into me at an event, don't forget to say hi :) I tend to get shy a bit but eventually, I always loosen up so if you catch me in my shy moments, come nudge me. I promise, I don't bite.
If you want more tips from me, let me know in the comments or email email@example.com. This is our year to impart knowledge :)
- Your Stylist