University of Wisconsin–Madison

Mastering the Art of the Networking Event

Never talk to strangers. Our whole lives we have been taught to never talk to strangers. Strangers are weird; strangers will hurt you; strangers smell funny. So now, all of a sudden, we grow up and it seems the only way to get a job is to talk to some random person you have never met. Not only have you never met this person, but now you are supposed to make a good impression while holding a beverage in one hand, some messy food in the other, and somehow grow a third arm to shake hands when the next person approaches. 

Networking is awkward. We all know it is, but it does not have to be. We also know it may be the one thing that lands you the job you have always wanted. Here are some tips for mastering your next networking event.

Before You Go:
Preparing yourself for a networking event is almost as important as showing up. First, take a moment to ask yourself why you are going to the event. Are you going to meet rising professionals? Are you going to meet a specific person? If you cannot identify why you are going, do not go. We all know what will happen if you do – you will stand in a corner, looking annoyed and bored out of your mind and no one will want to talk to you – making your attendance useless. If you know why you want to go, be sure to talk yourself off of the cliff before going. Networking events can be intimidating, but take a minute to really ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen? Really, outside of spilling a beverage or bruschetta down your shirt, nothing terrible is going to happen. Put yourself in the right, positive mindset and it will all go smoothly. Once you have talked yourself into going, do your homework.

Understanding who will be at an event is a crucial piece to successful networking. Use Facebook to look at the rsvp list, check LinkedIn to see what events have been shared, and talk to your acquaintances to get a better idea of who might be there. Once you know, do a little research to determine who you really want to meet. Once you have, find out what they are passionate about and where they work. Do not be a creepy Facebook stalker, but do not be afraid to check out LinkedIn profiles or company websites to learn more about particular individuals. Arming yourself with information will only help you once you are at the event. 

The Introduction:
Once you arrive at the event, you will have to begin to introduce yourself to others. Introductions are not hard, but they are a game changer. Let’s start with the basics: make sure you have a strong handshake, solid eye contact, and a welcoming smile. This may seem elementary, but there are a surprising number of people who have yet to master it, so do not be afraid to practice. The next part of your introduction is a little more challenging, especially if you do it right. When introducing yourself, you should get beyond your nametag. Your name and title, even if it is your year in school, is typically on your nametag. That means people can read it. When you introduce yourself, try to go beyond your nametag. Instead of saying “Hi, I’m Joe Smith, it’s nice to meet you,” try to go a little deeper, say something about yourself that will build a base for conversation, like “Hi, I’m Joe Smith, I’m a first year law student at UW, and I’m interested in social justice. It’s great to meet you.” Now, that may sound like a lot, but instead of just restating your name, you gave them a small glimpse of you, and also threw a soft ball for a follow up question: what social justice issues interest you? Clearly, your introduction will be tailored depending on where you are and who you are meeting, but it still should be more than just your name. One thing to remember is that even though your introduction is a bit longer, your handshake should not be. Make sure that you do not turn your introduction into an awkward hand-holding session. Once you say your name, release their hand, and then continue talking. It is also important that you get your introduction down to a science, so even if it means talking to yourself in a mirror, practice and practice a lot. 

Continuing Conversation:
After the introduction you may find that there is an awkward pause before continuing conversation. Conversation with anyone can be a bit awkward at first, but here are some tips to add value to your conversations and make you more memorable.

First, take the leap. The awkward five seconds after your introduction is only awkward if no one speaks, so be the first one to start the conversation. Have a few questions in your back pocket. Once you start the conversation, be sure to listen, ask follow up questions, and take an interest. Remember, however, that once you start the conversation, it should not become an interrogation. Ask a question or two and allow it to become a conversation. Even if you become overly excited about a conversation, make sure that the topic of conversation does not remain the topic just because you want it to. 

Next, be yourself and hold authentic conversations. There is nothing more important than being yourself when you are at a networking event. Networking is pointless if the person you are selling really is not you. While selling yourself, make sure you are being genuine when doing so. Your conversation should not just be about you, be sure to engage with all the people you are meeting. When individuals ask you questions, make sure to get to the point, answer the question, and then continue making conversation. This will show your interest while allowing other individuals to get to know you.

When meeting others, it is important to find the “me too.” Commonality undoubtedly drives conversation. Think about it, what is better than meeting other people who love the Badgers. Commonalities make you more memorable and also create a more genuine connection. When you find the me too, try to remember it so that when you follow up with the individual, you can mention it. Take time to develop the topic and learn more about the individual through it. That said, be careful that your “me too moment” does not begin to hog the conversation, especially if you are with other people who do not share your commonality. 

Be a connector. This may seem strange, especially for those just starting in the legal field, but do not doubt your power. Find a way that you can be of value to the person you are speaking with and fill the void. Building connections can be done in a variety of ways. Perhaps the individual has never visited the law school. You can offer him or her a tour. Creating connections to people or places shows your genuine interest in the person, and many times, gives you another opportunity to meet and speak with the person. Offering connections also gives you credibility and when you do need something, it makes your ask much more natural and better received. People are much more apt to help you out if you do not walk in expecting something first.

Interjecting and Leaving:
Entering a new conversation can be difficult. Typically, the question becomes should you interrupt or not. Interjecting or interrupting is completely acceptable when networking as long as you do it appropriately. If interrupting say something like, “Hi my name is Joe Smith, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I was really intrigued by your conversation.” After interjecting, retreat a bit prior to adding to the conversation. This allows the group to continue the conversation and not feel intruded upon. Once the group has conversed for a bit, then feel free to chime in. If you are hesitant to interrupt, find an outlier in the group and let them know that you would love to be introduced to the group when he or she has a moment. This allows you to have a conversation with one person, but also creates an easy in when the conversation opens up. If the person you are speaking to does not know people in the group, continue your conversation and introduce them and yourself once conversation allows.

Now that you have mastered conversation, at some point you will be ready to leave the group. When exiting, do not just leave. Nothing is worse than turning around to see that someone has just left without saying goodbye. Thank people for their time and move on. Some conversations are easier to leave than others. If you find yourself with an individual that will not let you escape, do not be afraid to tell him or her that you need to move on. Saying something as simple as, “it was great speaking with you tonight. There are a few other people that I need to meet, but I’d be happy to follow up” is completely appropriate. Make sure, however, if you say you are going to follow up that you do! 

Follow Up:
The most important step of any networking event is the follow up, without follow up, your networking basically becomes a bad date. Following up is crucial to a continued relationship and connections. First, make sure that you follow up within 48 hours – after that, the odds of recalling you are slim. Make sure that your follow up email or (gasp) phone call includes the following: a thank you, something that makes you memorable, a connection or fulfillment of a need, and a next step. In practice, it might look something like this:

Good Afternoon Mr. Smith 

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your time at the Boys and Girls Club Gala on Tuesday. I really enjoyed our conversation about your practice and our mutual love of Badger football. If I recall correctly, you were looking for a third year student interested in public service. If you would like, I would be happy to connect you to our Office of Career and Professional Development who would be able to help you. I would love to find a time for us to continue our conversation perhaps over lunch or coffee. Are you available the afternoon of August 12, over the noon hour on August 17, or any time on August 31? I look forward to hearing from you. 


Joe Smithe

Using this format summarizes your conversation briefly and jogs the person’s memory. It also clearly defines the next steps in continuing the connection.

As a recap, talking to strangers is incredibly powerful if you do it the right way. Use the tips above to get you started. If you are still struggling, do not be afraid to ask for help from OCPD. We are happy to help you master your introduction and write a follow up email. Your next job might depend on it.

Submitted by Law School News on August 23, 2017

This article appears in the categories: OCPD Articles