For many business professionals, especially young MBAs, networking at mixers and other events is a great opportunity to expand your network. Mixers are often fertile ground for sharing common interests and goals, and learning more about a particular industry or job opening. On the other hand, mixers can also lead to awkward moments and dull conversation if the wrong approach is taken. Here are a few tips for your next business mixer so you come away with solid connections that can help enhance your master’s of business administration degree:
1. Arrive in style. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the occasion. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Try to get as much information about the event (venue, attendees, timeframe) to gauge the proper attire. Most events are business formal or business casual. Business formal is easy – wear a suit. Business casual is where a lot of people go wrong and overemphasize “casual.” Jeans, t-shirts and tennis shoes are definitely out.
2. Arrive on time. There is debate about waiting until the event gets going to arrive. However, my logic is simple. If you arrive on time or just after the start time you have the opportunity to greet people as they arrive, making it easier to start a conversation. By arriving late you come at a handicap of needing to catch up to the room.
3. Take stock and work the room. Survey the venue and try to spot the focal points where people are congregating. If it’s early, try to anticipate where they might pop up (by the refreshments, etc.). Then start conversations with people in these focal point areas.
4. Don’t start a conversation with “What do you do?” It’s a phrase that is entirely overused and can start the conversation off on a bad note if the person is not happy with their job. Instead bring up something about a shared experience at the event (“good food”, “nice venue”, “how did you hear about this event”) to break the ice. Then say “What keeps you busy during the week?” so you aren’t the 15th person to ask them “What do you do?”
5. Do less talking and more listening. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and most people hate to hear it. Once you start a conversation with someone, continue asking questions to keep it going. The more the other person talks the more they are inclined to like you. Try to make insightful comments about what they’re saying and relate it back to you – that way common ground is established and they’re more likely to remember you.
6. Exchange business cards at the end. The purpose of the event is not to collect the most business cards; it’s to have the most meaningful conversations. When the conversation shows signs of ending (and this person is someone you’d like to keep in touch with), ask if you may have their card while pulling out your own.
7. Ditch the duds. This may be controversial but let’s face it, the goal of attending a networking event is to meet people of importance and authority. Once you find out the person likely won’t benefit your career, find a polite way to end the conversation. Time is limited at these events and you need to make the most of it.
Try these tips at the next business mixer you should walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. The key is to execute them with confidence. If confidence is something you struggle with at networking events, try to link up with a friend who is going, or someone you know, who can give you a confidence boost just by being there. Even if you follow all of these tips success is not guaranteed. Keep a good attitude and know that you gained valuable experience you can use at the next mixer to make an even better impression.
By Cory Shumaker, MBA ’16