Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Networking 101

As an introvert, I’m not big on small talk. In fact, I’d rather go to Hell and back – actually, I’ve been there; it’s a small town in Norway just east of Trondheim – than attend a business mingle or networking event. But in the business world, “contacts” are everything; so I endure. Yet organizers of networking events can do a few simple things to make them a little less painful for us shy types.

Name tags
Love ’em or hate ’em, they serve a purpose. They are both a visual reminder to everyone about the purpose of the gathering and an instant conversation starter for the odd-person-out who’s trying to break into a cozy two- or threesome to introduce her or himself. (Not to mention they help people remember each other’s names.) They work. Use them.

Help newcomers feel welcome
Designate a host for each table (if it’s a luncheon or dinner event) to identify and welcome newcomers to the group. Or assign new members a “buddy” to facilitate introductions for the first 4 or 5 events the newcomer attends. Or ask newcomers if they would like a buddy when they sign up for the event. In addition, event organizers should plan some kind of structured activity that forces attendees to introduce themselves to each other. Helping people feel welcome takes forethought and planning. Don’t leave it to chance.

Sit or stand?
Sure it’s hard to shake hands while juggling a plateful of snacks and a drink. But the purpose of networking is to meet new people, not chow down. And it’s easier to mingle while standing than sitting. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is provide seating for only part of the group. This forces people to switch places and move around during the event, i.e. mingle. If you want to sit down and eat with your friends, go to a restaurant.

Something personal is something memorable
Remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The goal is not to collect as many business cards as possible, but to genuinely connect with two or three people on a personal level so that you remember each other the next time you meet. It’s a scientific fact that adults learn through association, not memorization. The next time you meet someone at a business function, exchange your business vitals and a little personal information to help you remember each other. By the way, when someone asks you about yourself, but sure you ask about them in return. That’s just good manners.

Business or pleasure?
A relaxed atmosphere can be conducive to successful networking. But I recently attended a networking event where the rumble of the boat engine and loud background music made conversation almost impossible. It’s popular in Sweden to mix business with pleasure. But this leads to mixed success. Networking events should be structured, purposeful, and relatively short. And a party is – well, a party! Let networking be networking and a party a party (with spouses, partners, or friends, please). Don’t mix the two.

Successful networking events do not happen magically. Every aspect of the event requires serious planning. But the paradox is, the better the planning, the more spontaneous and effortless the event will be for all participants.

© 2013 Kvick Thoughts. All rights reserved. This article was also published in the Swedish newspaper VLT on August 15, 2008. To read the article in Swedish, click here.


  1. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Words to live by but especially true in the world of networking!


Är du svensk? Det går även alldeles utmärkt att skriva kommentarer på svenska!/Comments in Swedish are also welcome!