The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Networking Events 101

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Does the word "networking" make you cringe? Do you find yourself reluctant to go to networking events and meet people?Here are a few tips to make it easy for you.
Set Goals: Networking events can seem exhausting or intimidating, but going into a networking situation with a fun goal can help make the event more manageable and productive. A networking goal can be numerical or qualitative, general or specific and some ideas include:

  • Meet five new people and get their business card or add them to your LinkedIn.
  • Set up at least one follow-up conversation or email.
  • Learn about a different field related to your current interest.

    Entering a Conversation: Instead of waiting for conversation to come to you, be proactive with these simple conversation starters. If you’re nervous, just remember that the majority of other people probably know as few people in the room as you do and will feel relieved if you start the conversation. So set a goal of being the conversation starter for five minutes and use some of these tips:

    • Ask Questions: Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Start by asking about their work, passions, or thoughts on a topic. This is a great way to jump into a new conversation and get to know someone quickly to gather info to build into a conversation. Ex: “Hi, how are you? What kind of work do you do? What are you working on here at Dartmouth?”
    • Location, Location, Location: If you need a quick and easy ice breaker, try asking about the current location or where they came from. For example, "How about this Hanover weather? Where did you fly in from? Have you tried the new Nepalese restaurant in town?"
    • Discuss What You Have in Common: If you are both in the same place at the same time, you must have something in common. Figure out what it is and let it guide your conversation. If it’s a Dartmouth event, talk about Dartmouth.
    • Be Personal: Sharing personal stories and anecdotes will help you stand out and be remembered. Have an elevator pitch ready to make it short and powerful.
    • Allow Others the Chance to Enter Your Conversation: If someone is orbiting your conversation, invite them to join in! This will not only make you fast friends, it will often provide an easy out if you would like to move on.


      Body Language: The vast majority of communication takes place non-verbally and your body language can completely define your first interaction with someone.

      • Eye Contact: A must. Don’t stare the person down, but maintaining eye contact can keep both of you engaged.
      • Arms: It’s hard to know where to put your arms! Crossing your arms in front of your body can signal that you are closed to conversation. Hands in pockets signals lack of confidence. Hands on hips can look authoritative. Try holding something in your hand like a drink or plate of refreshments. Talking with hand motions is just fine – it shows energy and enthusiasm. Just be careful not to go overboard and knock someone’s plate or drink.
      • Recognize Disinterest: This is among the master networking skills. Be aware of your audience and know when it’s time to change the subject, let the other person speak, or let them exit the conversation. Telltale signs include eyes glazing over, eagerness to interject, or exit attempts.

      Exiting a Conversation Gracefully:
      Yet another trait of the master networker. Ending a conversation gracefully is often the most stressful part. People will love you if they do not have to do it. Here are some tips:

      • Food/Friend/Restroom: An easy way to get out of a fading conversation is to excuse yourself for an immediate need. For example, "It was great to talk to you, I’m going to refill my plate (or get another drink)." Or try recognizing the other person’s need – "Can I get you another drink?" Typically by the time you bring the drink back, they have moved on to someone else, and you can pass them their drink with a smile and move on.
      • Follow Up: If you would like to talk to more people at the event but want to stay in touch, just say so. "I have been dying to catch up with ____, can we continue this conversation offline?"
      • Network together! Who says you need to network alone? Suggest to your new acquaintance that you go up to the next group together. "Have you met ____? Come, let me introduce you! They would love to hear about your experience with ____." Be sure to give them something to talk about before you leave.
      The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences