It’s kind of cliché, isn’t it? Networking happy hours in which many attendees just end up getting loaded and embarrassing themselves, effectively defeating the purpose of said networking event – those are tragic, tragic tales. Those people you see standing alone in the corner looking terrified? They’re not getting much out of the experience either. But there are ways to attend these events without sabotaging your goals. Successfully navigating these tricky free-booze-free-food traps is easy, as long as you plan ahead.
Set (and stick to) a goal.
Tell yourself you’ll have meaningful industry-related conversations with three people. Make a point to get at least four business cards before leaving. This is especially helpful for those of us who are a bit more introverted and nervous at corporate-type events.
Only attend events that sound interesting.
Don’t go to a sports bar on the night of a big game if you’d rather be home watching Jeopardy and knitting. Avoid a wine-and-cheese night if all of the above makes you gag. If you’re out of your element and uncomfortable, you’re more likely to fall into the “well, may as well drink free booze and leave!” trap.
Be on time and leave when you’ve met your goal.
Don’t show up so late that everyone’s too involved (or drunk) to chat, and don’t be one of the last people there. Arrive on time, enjoy yourself, chat it up and get some cards, and leave. Ba da bing. You’re done.
Two drinks, maximum.
Being sloppy won’t get you anywhere. You’ll only embarrass yourself. That being said, if you are of the imbibing sort, having two drinks is reasonable.
Put the phone down.
Don’t hide your discomfort being the guise of “important emails” or “sorry, I have to take this.” You go to a networking event to network in person, not online. One evening without the smartphone won’t kill you.
Networking can be frightening for those of us (and I’m absolutely including myself in this) who are uncomfortable talking to complete strangers. Seize the day! The worst thing that can happen is that someone will think you’re a weirdo –and really, what’s wrong with that?
By Janelle O’Hara