This week marks my one month anniversary at the Greater Memphis Chamber. Not only am I new to the Chamber, but I am also new to Memphis, which means I have spent the past several months exploring all this city has to offer.
Thankfully, the Chamber excels at creating opportunities for their members (and employees) to network and meet new people. From the very beginning, I was thrown into events with instructions to introduce myself and get to know people.
First you have to understand, I grew up in small town Arkansas where I rarely came across an unfamiliar face. Then I attended a small private university where everyone was the “new girl” and awkwardness was expected. So it’s the first week of my first job fresh out of college and I am standing on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel surrounded by big city business leaders, and what do I do? I freeze. I get awkward. I get quiet.
Maybe you know the feeling or maybe you are an incredibly outgoing, enthusiastic go-getter who never thinks twice about how the high-rolling CEO feels about you interrupting his conversation to introduce yourself. Either way, I’ve compiled some tips from those older and wiser to help you gracefully start conversations with business professionals at any networking event.
Tip #1 Do your research.
Before our New Executives Meeting, I read all the Young Memphian profiles and memorized their names and faces because I knew they were going to be there. (If you are a YM reading this, I am sorry if that’s creepy.) But it was great because I recognized them when they arrived, I knew their names and easily got their attention, and I could use the background information to start up conversations.
If you know who is hosting the event or who will be attending, do not hesitate to do some “Googling.” Not only is the information great for conversation topics, but people feel flattered when you recognize them.
Tip #2 Find the right person.
For example, at our In the Mix last Wednesday at Levitt Shell, I really wanted to speak to some younger professionals and find out why they decided to attend. I zeroed in on these two younger women engrossed in a conversation. I walked over to them, but they did not notice me. I tried to catch an eye, but it didn’t work. So I awkwardly waited and waited and then it was just too embarrassing so I gave up.
Don’t make my mistake. Find the person also looking for someone to talk to. Or wait from afar for that inevitable pause in conversation (you know, the point where everyone chuckles, looks down at their beverage and takes a deep breath), and then make your move. Most likely, they will be grateful for your introduction instead of annoyed.
Tip #3 Create some questions.
My degree is actually in journalism, and as a reporter on the student newspaper, I quickly learned the importance of having go-to questions in my back pocket for any and all interviews. The same applies for social gatherings. Depending on the event, the appropriate questions might be obvious, but for general networking events like the Chamber holds, the options could be limitless.
My go-to question: “Are you a native Memphian?” Sometimes the answer is no, and then I get the opportunity to hear their story and learn exactly how we both ended up in this incredible city. Or, if the answer is yes, I usually follow it up with, “So tell me what about this city compels you to stay.”
Tip #4 Be business ready.
Currently, my business cards are in three places: on my desk, in my car and buried in the endless depths of my purse. Not one of these places is helpful when I make a new connection that I may want to contact in the future. Think about it: I have gathered the courage to make an introduction, I have picked the right person, I have asked the right questions, and now I am emptying the contents of my purse for ten minutes with the hopes of extending this business relationship.
They‘re probably thinking it’s not worth it at this point. So don’t follow my lead. Have your business card easily accessible and always be thinking about ways you can be of professional assistance to the person you are meeting (or, inevitably, how they could be of professional assistance to you).
Tip #5 Know your worth.
It takes a lot of confidence to walk up to a complete stranger and create a connection. And in order to have confidence, you have to remember what value you bring to the team. So before I attend a networking event, I like to remind myself of my personal contribution: “I sent out the e-vite that all these people responded to. I promoted it through Twitter. I am taking pictures to upload to Facebook.”
Even reminding yourself that you are a vital part of what your company and organization is doing as a whole can give you that boost of energy you need step out. Remember: You are worth knowing. Now, go out there and meet people.
There's many great opportunities to network at our upcoming events, so check out our calendar
to get involved. And make my day by following us on Twitter @MemphisChamber
for the latest Chamber events, news and tips!
Until next time,
Jenny C. Fish