As a recent graduate, I had only been at my first job for a few days when I attended my first company networking party. When I returned home that evening, my roommate asked me if I was nervous at my first networking event. Surprisingly, I wasn't.
I'm new to the professional world. I'm new to networking -- especially networking that could land me a job. So why was it that I didn't feel nervous in a totally new situation where the pressure was on to be gracious, intelligent, on point, and still figure out how to remember everyone's name? I realized that it wasn't a new task. I was a member of a sorority in college, and sorority recruitment taught me all of the skills I needed to rock a networking event.
Here are the top seven skills I learned in sorority recruitment and use in my career:
1. The basics -- it all starts with a handshake:
Your handshake starts the introduction so make sure that it is a strong handshake. Here are some tips from Etiquette International's 6 Tips for a Good Handshake: "It is firm but not bone-crushing," "lasts about three seconds," and "includes good eye contact with the other person." Eye contact is important throughout the conversation. Lack of eye contact may be perceived as boredom.
2. Don't fidget or cross your arms:
If you have a tendency to fidget when you are nervous clasp your hands together. Don't cross your arms because it conveys that you are not interested, don't want to be talked to, or may be nervous, or frightened.
In floating, the person who wants to enter the conversation signals by tapping the team (or sorority) member on the shoulder. The person engaged in the conversation introduces you to the other conversation members and let's you know what they were talking about so you can join in! Sound familiar? If you were part of a sorority, it probably is. But this basic exercise you learned in college is just as applicable in real, grown-up life. Try it out -- you'll be delighted at the results.
4. Remember Names:
It is uncomfortable when you turn to introduce someone and you can't remember their name! I learned to say, "It's nice to meet you ____________________." It's an instant leadership cue. Repeating the person's name helps you to remember it. Also, people love hearing their own name -- never underestimate the value of reinforcing a new friend's sense of self! Some of the greatest politicians in history are those who manage to be totally surprised and delighted by meeting an otherwise innocuous new face (e.g. Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton).
5. It is important to meet a lot of people, but it is better to make meaningful connections with a few:
At a networking event I often feel like I should meet as many people as possible; however, sorority recruitment taught me that it is more important to make more meaningful connections with a smaller number of people. It is much easier to follow up with people when you can reference conversations you had with them. So don't be afraid to shirk a few folks at the party in favor of getting involved in a really interesting conversation. Just be aware of your timeframe, whether your conversation is mutually interesting to your partner, and whether you're spending too much time with someone who, while interesting, is going to be of little impact to you in the future.
6. Have questions to ask in advance if you run out of things to talk about:
If you start running out of things to talk about defer to a few questions you have thought of in advance. Make sure that these questions can't just be answered with a simple "Yes," or "No!" People enjoy talking about themselves. Asking questions shows that you are interested in finding out more about them. If you can muster up actual interest in them, all the better -- you might be surprised by the amazing people you'll meet once you open up to the possibility that the person in front of you is totally fascinating.
7. Before you go to the event think of questions that people might ask you about your company so that you have all your answers ready in advance:
When you are at a networking event people are bound to ask you about your career and your company. Think of some of the questions you'll be asked in advance and come up with answers. I've gotten used to being able to explain the mission and goals of The Levo League as well as what I do there in two to three sentences. You don't want to bore people with the details -- so learn to get to the point!
Elana Lyn Gross is a superstar Levo League associate and social media guru. She is a graduate of George Washington University.