Geek Etiquette: Networking

The Geeky Hostess is gonna help you get your manners on! Each Monday, we’ll focus on a topic of etiquette. We’ll take a look at the classic rules (using Emily Post as a guide), and then evaluate the rules for our daily lives, creating a guide to “Geek Etiquette.” Have an etiquette question or topic suggestion? Email tara@geekyhostess.com!


Networking can be a tough but necessary task that can happen anywhere. Sure, networking events house the majority of it, but we’ve all had encounters where the person sitting next to us on the plane or in line behind us at the store has happened to turn into a great contact. So how can people who are normally introverted make the most of these networking opportunities? Think of it less as a spontaneous activity, and more as a series of steps.

Next time you’re at a function and don’t have anyone to talk to, try this:

Approach Someone
Ideally, you’ll find someone who is standing around awkwardly, also looking for someone to talk to. If everyone else is grouped up, keep an eye out for a group that has open body language, or is loud and happy enough that you could slip into or “overhear” their conversation.

Break the Ice
You don’t need to be clever, just come up with a couple go-tos to help you start a conversation. I find people in the room that are wearing something I like–I’ll seek them out to compliment them on their glasses, dress, jewelry, etc. and ask them where they got it. If they respond and turn their attention to you, then you’re set! Nothing grabbing your eye to compliment? Keep an ear out for people discussing similar interests of yours. It’s an easy way to jump into a conversation.

Bring the Conversation to Business
Once the ice breaker has run its course, it’s time to bring the conversation to something more mutually beneficial–sharing what you do and seeing if a connection can be made. It may be as simple as “So, what do you do?” or asking what their connection to the event/host is.

Don’t Talk About Yourself the Whole Time
You’re more than welcome to share what you do and answer any questions they have, but don’t bore the other person(s) with stories about yourself all night. If they share a story that segues well into a personal anecdote about yourself, share it quickly and get back to them. Ask them more questions about what they do, and maintain interested body language. Remember–you already know all about yourself. Use this time to get to know more about this person and find out how they can help you and/or your business.

Know When To End The Conversation
Keep an eye out for body language cues, and don’t overstay your welcome in the conversation. Are they standing away from you, losing eye contact, answering with very short answers, or trying to start conversations with others? It’s time to move on. Conversations can be ended simply by saying “It was so great to meet you, I’ve got to move on.”

End With a Call To Action
Is this someone you want to get to know better or potentially work with? Try to set up the opportunity to meet again. End with “we should do lunch sometime,” or “I’d love to get more info on that ____ you mentioned–I’ll send you an email tomorrow.” This is also a great chance to exchange business cards.

Emily Post has some great words of wisdom on business cards:

The business card of today

  • Invites a new business acquaintance to get in touch with you
  • Defines your position and responsibilities (e.g., Vice-President, Sales)
  • Provides a number of ways to reach you: mailing address, telephone, fax, e-mail address, and sometimes your assistant’s telephone number and alternate phone numbers for you

The smart businessperson should never be without at least a few cards in a jacket pocket- and the newer-looking they are, the better. You never know when you might need a card (at a dinner in a restaurant, say, or sitting next to someone in a baseball stadium’s bleachers), and they should be in perfect condition when you present them. Stationery and department stores sell business card holders that prevent smudging and creasing.

How to hand out business cards, and to whom?

  • If you’re reasonably sure you’ll be dealing with someone in the future, ask for a business card and give yours in return. Probably the one exception is when you encounter a top executive who clearly outranks you; if such a senior person wants your card, or wants you to have hers, she will tell you so.
  • When given a card, don’t just snatch it and jam it into your pocket. Take a moment to look at it, perhaps complimenting its design. Then slip it into your wallet or date book.
  • Offer cards one to a person- rather than presenting a fistful, as if you were trying to flood the market with the wonder of you and your title.

Offering your card privately to someone at a social event is perfectly fine- but suggest holding off on detailed business talk until another day. Don’t pop out your card in the middle of a dinner that has nothing to do with business; if you want to present one, wait until you’ve left the table.

Looking for a unique business card? Check out Pinterest for some great ideas. Some of my favorite cards are from Moo, a card company that is very popular among the blogger set.

Does networking still make you anxious? Bring a wingman. Just like in dating, a wingman can help you make introductions and can talk you up while you’re there. Better yet, become friends with the host of the event. Ask them to introduce you around, and they’ll get the conversation started for you.

What are your networking tips and tricks? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ended up networking?

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