by Bob Salvas

So you’ve decided to go to a networking event. Who should you try to talk to at that event?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that one of the big goals at an open networking event is to meet new people. There is nothing wrong with nurturing existing relationships at the event but there are other places where that can happen, so keep that to a minimum. Don’t ignore people you know, but understand that the real purpose of open networking is to meet people you do not yet know. This takes a little extra effort for some people but it is necessary.

One of the first people you want to talk to are the folks who organized the event. That person (or persons) is likely to know a lot of the attendees. You always start by expressing your gratitude for the work they did in order to have the event in the first place. You can then ask if a specific person is present or if a particular industry is present (perhaps folks who are a good prospect for you). Quite frequently, the host will be able to introduce you to exactly who you are looking to meet.

As you work your way around the room, be on the lookout for ‘open circles’…that is if two or more people are standing in sort of a half-circle formation- that is a physical sign that you are welcome to approach that group of people. Don’t jump right in and introduce yourself at first- just stand on the edge of the circle and listen politely. Someone may be finishing up a point. More than likely, someone in the group will introduce themselves but if not, you are free to do so when the timing is right (after you have been listening for a few minutes and there is a natural break in the conversation).

Another good person to approach at a networking event is someone who is standing all alone. We have all been there and you can be their savior just by going over and introducing yourself. We sometimes tend to avoid people standing alone the same way we avoid going to a restaurant at lunch time that has an empty parking lot. We think “what is wrong with them?” The truth of the matter is that they may just not know anyone and are feeling slightly insecure about the whole meeting people thing. Take the initiative and be one of the first to talk with them.

Lastly, one of the worst mistakes a person can make in networking is to not want to talk to the person who NOT a good prospect for them. Once realizing what the person does for a living, some people quickly end the conversation to spend their time looking for more ‘qualified’ prospects. That really misses the point entirely. You see, in networking, it is actually NOT about the person you are talking to, but rather it is about who THAT person knows. We all know at least 250 people and someone I know may be your dream referral! Take the time to have a meaningful conversation each person you meet-even with the person you know is not your best prospect. Because you never know who THEY know!