Networking 101: Top 5 Networking Prep Tips & Best Practices

I’m often pegged as an outgoing, bubbly person who most people would identify as an extrovert. But I’ll be honest, I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies. Talking and engaging with people takes up a lot of energy and sometimes it can take great lengths for a conversation to surpass the small stuff. So what am I trying to get at?

Networking might not be your favorite thing because of the small talk or because you have no idea where to start. So here are my top 5 networking prep tips to get you into the rhythm of an insightful discussion.

1. Research the event

It sounds simple enough, but researching the event beforehand is a fantastic place to start. You might even discover that the event hosts post a list of companies or better yet, a guest list of individuals. Hone in on the ones you want to have a discussion with and research them. LinkedIn is a great starting point if they list the person’s name and company.

2. Bring business cards

As much as we’re hopeful that QR codes or some other transcription device will be the way of the future, people are still using business cards. The cards also help with branding and keep you memorable. Use a site like Vistaprint so you aren’t spending an arm and a leg on them.

3. Prepare icebreakers

The most basic icebreaker question that helps fuel discussion is: “What brings you to this event?” It’s super helpful as it establishes that you already share something in common — the event. It’s also a question that can’t be brief. There is usually some backstory that brought you to the event in the first place.

It depends on what is natural to you, but I am always gorging at the food table or grabbing a glass of wine and use that as an opportunity to strike up conversation. Whether it’s commenting on the delectable charcuterie or the fact that everyone beelines it to the drinks, it is a relaxing thing for most people and a prime time to catch people at their best.

4. Learn how to breakaway

Usually, you only have two to three crucial hours to make valuable connections. One of the most difficult things is having to end a conversation so that you can mingle more. Honesty is the best policy, so find a good gap in your conversation and say that you would like to meet a few more people. If it was a good connection, do not forget to get their contact information.

5. Make it a habit to follow-up

If you had a really amazing conversation, don’t let it fall off the radar. Usually, I find email follow-up is the best touch point over a phone follow-up as it gives a person a moment to process information. After all, you only met them the night before among other people.

Remember, the intent is to make a connection not a transaction. So make sure your focus is on the value you can offer a person, so that they may consider returning the favor.

Originally published at on February 24, 2016.