Last week I was invited by fellow blogger Clarendon Nights to come out to a Clarendon Alliance Happy Hour event geared towards the bloggers in the neighborhood. It was at 3 Restaurant, right by my house and on the way when I come home from the office- so I figured I would stop by.
Now we all know I’m sometimes socially awkward but I was still excited to attend. I’ve been to receptions and after-work events through my work over at DC Metblogs, but I’ve never been to a networking event. There I was in a room full of strangers with a drink in my hand and nobody to talk to. What was I supposed to do!?!?
I immediately recalled a post I read last year about one’s failure at networking and I got a bit scared- oh no what if I do the same thing?
I was in the middle of the room and I knew I had to do something. So I threw my social inhibitions to the wind and I walked up to a couple of people talking and got myself into the conversation. I think I used a question like, “where did you get that name-tag?” and all of a sudden I was talking to Ned Sharpf, President of Corporate Apartment Specialists. I had no idea what a corporate apartment was so he explained it to me and we talked a bit about his organization was all about. After I told him a bit about my blogging background he took me straight over to the reception table that I somehow missed and introduced me to his friend that serves on the Alliance. I got my name tag and I was then introduced to the Alliance Executive Director.
The rest of the night was a flurry of conversations and shaking of hands. I was off and networking.
Here are some lessons I learned while pressing the flesh and talking the talk:
Make An Appointment
A tip from Irina’s post, contact participants ahead of time, worked well at this event. I realized during the night that it would be a good idea to actually meet the blogger that invited me so when I hit a lull I started to search for Mr. Clarendon Nights and had a great chat with him.
One of the local businesses that caught my attention was Cliff who is the creative director over at Dimension Creative Promotions. One of the first things we did was hand me a card- not his business card but a holographic photo that is currently being used as the Empire State Building Executive Pass. Not only was it a great example of his work as a graphics printer, but it also gave him a way to tell his story in a way that kept me entertained. As I played around with the holograms he told me about his business and how he prints on anything BUT paper for his clients. The card itself was a cool take-away as I cleaned out my coat pockets the day after.
Of course if you are going to a Networking event- bring business cards! Heading up to Detroit many times for meetings got me into the habit of having business cards handy anytime I feel like I’m going to be meeting new contacts.
If you don’t know what to say- ask a question. When I ran into Claire at the Arlington Arts Center, I asked lots of questions about it’s offerings. I knew where the building was but I honestly always wondered what went on in there and meeting her was my chance to find out. Asking questions is also an easy way to strike up a conversation if you are feeling shy. I noticed a woman with an old school SLR camera so I walked right up to her and asked her if she her camera was really film or digital. That woman turned about to be Stacey Viera and we had a great conversation about the next food cart I need to tackle: Rebel Heroes!
After meeting all these interesting locals I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget about them- so the night after I took all the business cards I collected and found them all on Twitter and LinkedIn while their memory of me was still fresh. It allowed us to continue the conversations we started, like the quest to find Rebel Heroes for Stacey and I.
Another tip from Irina’s post but it deserves to be repeated: if you want to meet people you have to stop worrying about being shy and put on a smile and have some fun. I think part of the reason the event was just a great time was because everybody was in the mood to talk to each other and it really created a welcoming atmosphere. Not all events will be like that but you can help create one if you have the right attitude.