Networking doesn’t have to be awkward, here’s how to connect at your next event

Ah, the dreaded networking function. It can bring about a sense of trepidation as easily as inspiration. But far from being tokenistic, a networking event done right can be the last piece in many a puzzle.

Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) holds First Wednesday Connect, a friendly networking event on the first Wednesday of every month.

These sessions link local entrepreneurs, students, researchers, startups and SMEs with a broad range of innovators – investors, mentors, educators, industry leaders and more.

As community manager at CBRIN, Candace Rhind has attended and hosted her fair share of networking events, so knows the lay of the land. She divulges her best tips to conquering nerves and stamping out any awkwardness at your next local event.

“I think we all worry about small talk, for a start,” she says.

“It can be difficult to move past brief introductions and many people aren’t comfortable talking about themselves.

“A great way to think about networking is it’s less talking about yourself and more finding out about other people, their work and their experiences.”

Be sure to practise your introduction (who you are, where you’re from, what you do) beforehand so it comes naturally. To dig a little deeper than the initial hello, think about some broad questions to ask others, such as what they’re working on at the moment or their professional background.

The timing of a conversation can be just as important as its topic. Before approaching a group, check on their body language. If they’ve left a space open between them, chances are they’re happy for another person to join the conversation.

“Try to read the room a little bit. If it’s a busy event with lots of movement, keep your conversations relatively short,” Candace says.

“You don’t have to solve all the world’s problems in one little conversation – aim to catch up with those you connect deeply with on another day.

“Pay attention to body language and if someone’s starting to look away or seems disinterested, it might be time to make a graceful exit.”

If there is a formal part of an event, such as pitching, speeches or a welcome notice, pay close attention. You’ll get an idea of who the organisers are and a sense of what attendees are looking for. Photo: Mude.

Don’t despair if a conversation falls short. If someone isn’t the right fit for your network, or you aren’t for theirs, ask if they know anyone nearby who could be a good connection and see if they’ll introduce you. This ends things on a positive note and allows you to give each other a more suited opportunity.

“Researching an upcoming event can help calm some of those tricky nerves,” Candace says.

“Know where your venue is, how to get there and suss out the parking situation. You can even look up photos of past get-togethers online, which will give you an idea of the dress code and overall atmosphere.

“Drinks and canapes can give you something to do with your hands, which can be a big help if you’re feeling anxious.”

On that note, Candace says don’t be afraid to speak to an organiser if you have any questions or concerns. They may even introduce you to some regular attendees.

andace’s final tip is to carry business cards, which can serve as either introduction or farewell.

“Business cards are a great resource and whether you pass them over as you meet someone or when you’re finished talking is up to you,” she says.

“It’s always a good idea to have your full name, role and email address on there. Some people also include a website or QR code, links to socials like LinkedIn, or even a mobile contact.”

Try out some of Candace’s tips in a friendly, welcoming environment at CBRIN’s next First Wednesday Connect, on Wednesday 3 April 2024. Jump online to register for free or find out more about other CBRIN events, including Female Founders and SME Breakfast.