Up Your Networking Game: How Speed-Dating is a Lot Like Networking|
We’re all familiar with the 30 second elevator pitch. However, professional networking events usually call for a more social, conversational, and situational approach. Although going to a networking event is contextually very different from speed dating, the expectations are shockingly similar; in both cases, you get a limited window to chat up a complete stranger, assess if he or she is into you, and try to get his or her number (okay, business card – but there’s usually a number on the card, right?).
Here are a few borrowed tips from speed dating that will help you up your networking game:
1. Dress up.
There was a write-up in New York Magazine a few years ago discussing an interview prep guide distributed by the career services office at Columbia Business School reminding students to brush their teeth before going on interviews. Additionally, students were advised that rain boots, regardless of the designer or how cool they are this season, should not be worn to interviews. It’s surprising that so few of us would wear rain boots to a date that we’ve been looking forward to all week, but some of us need to be reminded not to wear rain boots to an interview we’ve been prepping for all week. [Even though we've been advised that the Columbia memo was more related to Columbia's lack of coathangers and places to change shoes in their employer presentation areas than actual lack of common sense]
Dressing the part is literally half the battle in making it look like you have it together. Maybe even more than half. Unlike an interview process, which involves resume intensive screening, when you’re walking around and meeting people at a networking event, you’re meeting a lot of people over short interactions and there are basically only two things to judge you by: what you’re wearing and what you’re saying. If you wouldn’t want to meet Justin Bieber looking frumpy or wrinkly, the same thought would apply here.
2. Smile and look interested.
Say you’re interested in someone– but not in the very long, very uninteresting story that they’re telling you. The good news is that, somewhere in your dating history, you have already (probably) had to feign interest in something you didn’t care about and have already honed the valuable skill of smiling and pretending to pay attention just long enough to eventually switch to another topic.
3. Use pick up lines. (They work.)
Nervous and not naturally chatty? What’s a heck of a lot easier than the arduous, anxiety-inducing process of thinking of a fabulously charming or funny thing to say extemporaneously? For starters, having a couple of pre-prepared lines is quite handy. Whether it’s about the weather (or “Hey, have we met? You look so familiar!”), lines can be the best go-to technique to start a conversation or revive a dying one. Be original if you can, and, if you find something that works for you, by all means use it more often.
Witty and funny and are nice to haves, but being appropriate and conscious of your audience are the main objectives. For example, you initialize a conversation with a woman at a professional event by saying “Hi, I really like your shoes. I’m Emily.” You’ll either get a neutral or positive response from her, depending on your delivery and her personality. It’s a low risk line. But it doesn’t go both ways: if you say the same exact thing to a man at a similar event, he might A) think you’re hysterical, B) think you’re weird, or C) think you’re hitting on him.
4. Don’t be desperate/ crazy.
“Don’t be crazy” is a great rule of thumb in general-and it works in almost every imaginable situation. While not everything you talk about on a date is appropriate to chat about at a networking event, it’s pretty safe to assume that anything you might think is too weird or crazy to say on a date is definitely off limits at a networking event.
Much like how you wouldn’t want to appear desperate, needy, or overly aggressive on a date, try to avoid that at a networking event.
5. Call me maybe…
There are tons of fish in the sea. Likewise, you’ll meet so many people through your professional and social networks over the years. It’s fun and advantageous to build a rolodex of contacts, but, at the end of the day, it’s not just about building a network – it’s about building relationships.
The strongest relationships are the ones you can lean on the most. Having a million connections on LinkedIn is awesome. But having someone to email (who has a vague idea of who you are) when you have a question or need guidance ASAP trumps all. It might be a numbers game, but finding the right numbers (and the right relationships) is worth it.
6. He’s not really my type, but he might have friends– or a brother.
You met him at the sparkling water, you took turns making fun of the event speaker’s bad joke, and he’s super nice. But, he’s an entertainment lawyer and you’re an M&A kind of girl. “Let’s be friends” is perfectly acceptable in this situation. Sure, you might not foresee a direct path from him to happily ever after (at your dream job), but what’s the harm in being [Facebook] friends? For all you know, he might be friends with the recruiter for that job you’ve had your eye on… or have a brother in M&A who’s looking for a new associate…
Emily Ramdehaul is a geek-chic (bond) math nerd with a penchant for pitch decks. She’s got experience publishing research papers as well as trend-focused fixed income and credit market commentaries at S&P. Emily joined McKinsey within the Corporate & Investment Banking practice, where she developed broader product knowledge, before moving to Corporate Banking at Citi. Emily is interested in the collaborative nature of today’s society and markets and is passionate about building strategic partnerships bringing together companies, people, and ideas.