8 Tips for Networking at Events
I started my testing career over 10 years ago and have spent a fair of that time networking with people in real life at meet-ups and conferences.
During this time I have learned a few things when it comes to networking with people, which I would like to share.
I’m the first to admit I don’t always do these things, but I do try and be self-aware about this.
1. Remember the Pac-man Rule
When you are standing in a group, make sure you leave space for one person to join.
When you are looking to join a conversation, look for groups that have applied this rule. It can be a bit annoying to join a conversation when people haven’t made room for you to join.
Remember that it’s almost always socially acceptable to just go up to people and introduce yourself.
You can read more about the Pac-man rule here.
2. Find Common Ground
When you meet people, you often want to try and build a connection. A common way to do this, is to find common ground.
Here’s an example:
As a person from New Zealand, when I tell people where I am from (people often wonder why I sound strange), they almost always will say they have been to NZ, want to go to NZ or have a family or friend who have been.
This is their attempt to find common ground.
To find common ground, you should ask the other person questions - get to know them. Don’t just talk about yourself (more about this later).
3. To Be Interesting, Be Interested.
If you want to come across as an interesting person, it helps to be interested in what the other person has to say.
To do this, I ask the other person questions and then when I find an area that I want to hear more about, I then drill down.
Another way to do this is to find what the other person is passionate about - for me at least, I find passion contagious. I really enjoy listening to people speak enthusiastically about a topic.
After the conference today, I was speaking to a person who is very interested in security testing. While I normally don’t have a massive interest in this area, I really enjoyed listening to someone share their passion and I relished the opportunity to learn from someone who was an expert in this area.
4. Be Aware of How Much Room You Take Up
This might be one that some people disagree with, but hear me out.
In some group conversations, you may have one or two extroverted people who just occupy the whole conversation and not give others a chance to speak.
I found myself in such a conversation today but with 3 such people who dominated. For about 15 minutes, whenever I tried to say something, one of these people would speak over me and then nobody ever tried to circle back and ask what I was going to say.
(I don’t know if they realised they were doing this, I sincerely hope they didn’t because the alternative is worse.)
Bonus tip: nobody likes being spoken over constantly - I left that conversation as soon as I realised a pattern had emerged.
While I am an introvert, sometimes I find myself taking up too much room in a group conversation - I then try to steer the conversation so that others get to share their thoughts.
If you find yourself in a conversation where the other person is giving a monologue, it’s up to you on how you spend your time.
You can stay and listen, or excuse yourself from the conversation (More on that below).
5. Don’t Just Make It All About You
Take an interest in what others have to say and by golly do NOT try and one up people.
Did you hear that someone solved a difficult problem at work within a month? Don’t even think about telling everyone you solved a difficult problem at work within 2 weeks.
6. Make An Effort To Include Everyone in the Conversation
The best way to explain this is by giving an example.
Let’s say you used to work with a person called Johan at ABC company.
You are having a conversation with Johan and Johanna (Johanna did not work at ABC company).
Any conversation about ABC company is bound to exclude Johanna, while I think you can talk briefly about ABC company, do not go on and on and on about it… that’s not very nice to Johanna.
7. No One Left Alone
Make a judgment call here. There is a difference between someone recharging by themselves as they want some space, and someone being left out as they don’t know anyone.
Leave the person alone If they seem to be recharging. Include them if they don’t seem to know anyone.
Not everyone gets to attend conferences and meet-ups with their colleagues and/or friends.
If you see someone alone, make an effort to include them.
Approach them and say something like:
- Hey, how are you finding this conference/meetup so far?
- Are there any talks you’re looking forward to?
- Have you seen any talks you’ve liked?
- What kind of work do you do?
Generally, they’ll probably ask you the same question (or something similar), and then hopefully it’ll naturally lead to a back and forth between you two.
In terms of building a connection with this new person, refer to Tip # 2 above - Find Common Ground.
After you have had a conversation with someone by themselves, you could also consider introducing them to others once you have gotten to know them a bit.
For example: You just met Björn who was standing by himself. During your conversation with him, you found out that he is about to start a new role in security testing.
Your friend Agneta is also at the conference and she is an expert security tester.
Why don’t you introduce the two to each other?
8. You Choose How You Use Your Time
Sometimes it’s nice to mix and mingle with a lot of people. Other times its nice to meet one or two other people and then only speak to them.
You do you.
Just remember to be purposeful about it.
I mentioned earlier that I was spoken over constantly in a group conversation. While I initially thought I had something to learn from these people, I quickly realised that I would probably enjoy not getting constantly spoken over.
In terms of leaving a conversation, it’s more acceptable to leave a conversation at such events than it is in “normal life”.
Feel free to say something along the lines of “I’m going to continue mingling, but it was nice to meet you.”