New York Etiquette Guide

The Golden Rules of Etiquette at a Business Networking Event

Posted on Thu, Oct 06, 2011

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by Meghan Keneally


The prospect of walking into a business networking event or conference can be both exciting and daunting. By utilizing a few key social skills for business, these events can become more manageable and allow for real growth for you personally and your client list. 

The first step takes place before you even arrive at the convention center or conference hall. The promises of legendary speakers and hoards of contacts often leave attendees overwhelmed. Go in with realistic expectations: you won’t be able to meet all the attendees, and nor should you. Rather, you should focus on meeting a handful of people from similar businesses and try to build meaningful relationships with these individuals. Your goal should not be to collect a stack of business cards but to make real contacts that will further your career.

Always eat before you attend an event. While the invitation may promise canapés, you don’t want to waste time hounding the waiters when you really should be focusing your attention on the other attendees and speakers. Throughout the event, avoid holding a glass in your right hand and a snack in the other. You need to be ready to shake hands with new contacts at a moment’s notice.

Chances are you will bump into acquaintances or friends. Many nervous attendees cling to their friends as a sort of security blanket. This is a mistake! The point of attending a conference or networking event is to get your name and that of your business out there to new clients and partners. While it may be easier—and more fun—to catch up with friends, you should not devote too much time to those you already know. This is your chance to shine to others, so say hello to your friends but leave the longer conversations for another time.  

When talking with another attendee, be in the moment: listen to what they are saying and react appropriately. While this may seem like an easy step, it is also the most important because it determines the impression that you leave on your new acquaintance. If you are constantly looking over their shoulder to see who else is out there, you will miss the chance to make a meaningful connection with the person right in front of you! Be present and think of what you have in common or how your two businesses overlap. 

Try to approach groups of three to five people. It‘s easier to slide in when there are an odd number of people involved in a conversation. Steer clear of serious topics like politics, religion, or health. By keeping the talk lighthearted—focusing on the arts, culture, food, or travel—you will be less likely to offend anyone and more likely to include everyone in the conversation. Everyone has a favorite movie or restaurant so choosing those as conversation topics is an easy way to spark a lively, yet light, debate among a group of new acquaintances. 

Be aware of the amount of time that you are dedicating to each person. While it is important to give your undivided attention to the person you are speaking with, don’t feel that you have to spend the whole event with a particularly chatty contact. It’s appropriate to move on after a reasonable amount of time as long as you make a smooth and polite exit. One strategy is to summarize your understanding of their business, exchange business cards, and say that you look forward to being in touch. If the person continues talking, say that you have to see if a client of yours has arrived. Whatever the line you use, the most important thing is to be tactful, polite, and business-etiquette savvy.

The final portion of the event takes place after the last cube of cheese is eaten and all of the stalls have been folded back up. After you leave the event, follow up with the people you spoke with. Oftentimes, it is helpful to make a note on the back of their business cards, jotting down either what you spoke about or what their business goals include. In doing so, you help protect your memory of each individual, which will allow you to write a more personalized email- as opposed to a follow up phone call- after the event.  

When you walk into a crowded networking event it can seem like you are an ancient explorer: you don’t know where exactly you are headed or where every conversation may end up. Some interactions may not seem completely worthwhile at the time, but you never know who will pop back into your business life some day so it is important to maintain good relationships with everyone. You should be willing and happy to offer help and advice without expecting anything in return. Think of it as a way to “pay it forward” and earn some good business karma! In doing so, you will endear yourself to a number of new business contacts and leave them with a solid first impression of you and your business.


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