Love it or loathe it, networking is an essential part of getting ahead in business. But many of us don’t like traditional networking events, or don’t have the time.
Many people are also more comfortable in situations that are a little less stiff. In fact, you can initiate meaningful networking opportunities in some pretty unexpected places. To do so, always keep business cards on hand and have a few conversation starters ready to go.
Here are eight places to connect that you may not have thought of, and a few tips to get you started.
Malls and stores
Next time you’re buying clothes for the office, take note of the people around you. If they’re also purchasing business clothing, you already have something in common.A sincere compliment not on the person’s appearance, but on something they’re wearing or their style, could start a conversation. The same technique would work at nail and hair salons, barbershops—anywhere you run into other professionals.
Try These Lines
- “Excuse me… I love the color of your shoes. What’s that called?”
- “Are those comfortable? They look great, but I’m wondering how they feel.”
- “What do you call that hairstyle? I was thinking of trying that style, but I don’t know how to describe it.”
In the restroom/bathroom
This one isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but you shouldn’t automatically consider this rather private place off-limits. In office buildings and convention centers, the facilities can be quite nice, spacious, and more than just a line of stalls to do your business.And there are times, particularly at presentations or noisy events, when there’s a good reason to connect in the loo. You may need a quieter environment or even a private space to have a conversation.
We’re not suggesting talking to the pants around the ankles in the next stall over. But the wash basins are usually a safe area where people aren’t vulnerable. Unlike with #1, it’s best to keep to a neutral, non-personal topic.Note that you’ll need to approach this one carefully. This may be a sensitive issue in some countries, so by all means, be guided by local cultural etiquette. If it’s just not done, don’t do it.
Try These Lines:
- “Who was your favorite presenter?”
- “How did you find out about this event?”
- “Do you know if there’s an ATM/a good takeout place around here? I’m supposed to buy lunch for my team.”
Unconventional local events
If you’re having fun, networking is secondary, and really easy.How about a zombie crawl? Many towns have events to celebrate holidays and just-plain-fun days. And you don’t need to live in New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Lots of towns do it, or they have other festive events. People will be in higher spirits and just being themselves, so you’ve got an easy excuse to strike up a conversation.
Try These Lines
- “What a creative costume! What is it?”
- “Have you found any good food stalls about here? I’m really hungry.”
- “Do they do this every year? It’s an amazing event.”
Tips: Events like these take planning, usually year-round. Consider joining planning committees or fundraisers to make contacts in your own town. Or possibly a nearby town where you would like to have more of a presence.Attending the events themselves, of course, will also present its own opportunities in a setting that’s informal and fun. They can involve drinks or a quick meal together.
Networking doesn’t have to be all about talking shop over appetizers and bad chardonnay—do it in a way that works for you. – Kathryn Minshew
Speed networking events
A “thing” since the early 2000s, speed networking is similar to speed dating but it’s for making business connections. For people who don’t have a lot of time to attend events, this is a great way to meet a bunch of people in a short time.
How it works: Participants rotate from one mini-meeting to another throughout the event. Each meeting lasts 5 or 10 minutes. During that time, you will have a quick conversation with another professional, then move on to your next “meeting” when time is up.
Tips: A few prepared conversation starters should be all you need. And you can even pull your elevator pitch if you realize you’re matched with someone who can understand it. Keep it short, don’t pry, and don’t expect anything. From there, you can decide if you would like to swap business cards with another participant or to meet again for coffee or drinks.
In this case, you don’t have to beat around the bush, and conversation is focused, so get right to it.
or maybe you’d like Speed Mentoring…
Speed mentoring is an off-shoot of speed networking. It allows mentees to “pick the brains” of a series of mentors. Segments are typically 10–15 minutes long.
Speed mentoring events can be internal and company sponsored or external to your place of employment.
Tips: In many cases, mentees will receive a list of mentors before the event. To make the most of your time, do some research and prepare a few questions beforehand for each mentor you would like to speak with.
Around the World
You’ll find American (and other) sports fans meeting at pubs and other venues around the world to watch games and schmooze.
Or how about an international professional networking group, like this one in Beijing? This group has members from many countries, and there are groups like them all over the world.
Try These Lines
- The obvious line is “Where are you from?” but it’s stale. instead try, “Based on [ ] I’m thinking you’re from [ ].”
- “I’m really glad I found this group. Do you know of any others like it?”
- “This is my first time here. Are there any topics I should avoid discussing?”
Tips: To make the most of this type of group, don’t expect to talk shop right away. Go to a few meetings and make some personal connections first. Have a lunch date or meet for drinks before approaching a new contact about what you may have to offer each other. Offer to be helpful to them before asking for favors.
International travel clubs
How about networking at an Antarctic shipwreck? Or an eco-trip to Costa Rica? Maybe a Northern Lights trip to Iceland would be more your style?
The New York City International Travel Club is one example of a group that brings like-minded people together around world travel. The NYC group has thousands of members.
A search on Google or Meetup will turn up similar travel clubs in many locations. You may find something similar in your area. Groups like these can be excellent resources for those who prefer not to travel alone.
Tips: A travel group of this kind can offer dual networking opportunities. Only a small number of members in the New York group sign up for each trip. They do, however, meet in the City regularly for drinks, meals, and hikes in addition to trip planning. This is where the real networking value lies for some people.
Secondly, of course, the trips themselves offer global opportunities for business and personal connections. Look for trips that allow you to mix business with pleasure.
Introverts Network Asia (INA)
Check its Facebook group as well, even if there aren’t any events in your area.INA’s mission is to connect introverts who prefer to do their networking in small groups or one-on-one chats. They offer mentoring, round-table discussions, and business mixers.
They even host a blogging showcase for those who prefer to let content do their talking.The contacts made through INA could be invaluable to anyone living or doing business in Asia.
INA branches have face-to-face meetings twice a month. These meetings provide networking opportunities in an environment “that allows us [introverts] to be ourselves.”
Tips: Step out of your comfort zone. As an introvert, that may describe a to-do item every day of the week. Sign up for self-development activities offered to increase members’ confidence when interacting with extroverts.
But INA is not just for business networking. They also encourage talk about “family or life experiences.” To get the most from INA, consider reaching out to make personal connections as well.
Personal relationships are always the key to good business. You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships. – Lindsay Fox
Face-to-face contact will probably always be the best way to build relationships. But online networking is now as critical to business as face-to-face events.
Why not use online networking to enhance a live conference experience? When you find out who the speakers are going to be, research them on their social platforms. Introduce yourself online prior to the event. Engage with the content they’ve published.
The idea is to establish connections and talking points that will help you make the most of your time at the conference.Find out who among your own connections will be attending the conference and reach out to them, too. Pre-event discussions can help all involved to solidify what they hope to take away from the event.
Tips: Use a good business card scanner and contact management app, even better if it’s connected to your CRM (like Eight can). The right app can be a powerful tool to track relationships and maximize the value of your networking connections. It will facilitate efficient communication before the conference and make post-event follow-up easier.
A Final Word
Professional networking is an uncomfortable necessity for many people. But it doesn’t have to be awkward or intimidating. Networking can be whatever and wherever you want it to be.
There will always be business events that you can’t avoid. But for the most part, your networking opportunities are limited only by your ability to think differently.
Get creative and have fun with it.