Building a Network: How You Can Make Meaningful Connections When You Don’t Know Anyone in the Room

How can you make long-term, meaningful connections at networking events (when you don’t know anyone there)?

Business networking event participants
photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg / Flickr

The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Say Hello

When you don’t know anyone in the room, it can definitely be nerve wracking, but it’s best to be bold and go up to someone, say hello and introduce yourself. I always try to look for people who seem open and friendly to meeting new people, and I avoid people who look like they are in deep conversations and mentally closed off to any interruptions.

Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile

2. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Remember that you’re all there for a reason. If your perception is that people aren’t approachable, you’re probably off. Be vulnerable and introduce yourself — then speak genuinely. Long-term connections don’t come from shared accolades, but from openness and shared struggles.

Sam Saxton, Paragon Stairs

3. Give as Much as You Get

At a majority of networking events, people go in with the wrong goal. More often than not, many are missing the mark in making the objective of an event to meet as many people as they can. The key is to go in being open to learning and listening to as many different people as you can. Sometimes it’s about giving to others through listening and helping, as much as it is getting from others.

Jeff Slobotski, Router Ventures

4. Offer an Executable Follow Up

It’s common knowledge that you should follow up on receiving new business cards with a prompt email greeting — however, just saying “nice to meet you,” is not exactly productive. Your follow-up outreach should incorporate a tangible next step for your relationship to keep the ball rolling, whether that’s shooting over a sample product or just setting up a time to grab coffee.

Ryan Wilson, FiveFifty

5. Focus Only on a Few People

Nothing is more annoying than the ultra networker who has a huge stack of business cards, is not listening to what you do or who you are, and is scanning the room while talking to you. If you are this person, stop. Invest in a few people and offer to help them first.

James McDonough, SEE Forge creators of FAT FINGER

Business conversation in a networking event

6. Find a Group, Then Listen and Wait Before Speaking

While it might be intimidating to insert yourself into a conversation with a group, I have found that a simple hello and listening to the direction of the conversation before making any comments is a great way to get in there (especially when you don’t know anyone). By listening, you’ll be able to establish common ground and maybe even add an anecdote. Your anecdote is how they’ll remember you.

Cody McLain, SupportNinja

7. Find Something in Common With People

Networking doesn’t have to be strictly a “what can I do for you” or “what can you do for me” kind of thing. You can establish long-term and meaningful connections with people by discussing something you both enjoy or know a lot about. Your conversation might lead to something beneficial for both of you, if not just a rewarding friendship.

Zev Herman, Superior Lighting

8. Research on LinkedIn Ahead of Time

Preparation is key to any networking event. Before I attend an event, I identify a few attendees that I would like to connect with. I research them on LinkedIn to familiarize myself with their backgrounds and find commonalities, so I’m more likely to make a meaningful connection with them at the event.

Douglas Baldasare, ChargeItSpot

9. Attend Events That Attract Similar Crowds

Creating lasting connections with people at networking events doesn’t usually happen after just one event. Attend events that will attract a similar crowd each time. Once you continue to network with the same people over and over, you’ll start to gain familiarity with one another and create long-term, meaningful connections.

Dave Nevogt,

10. Go Below the Surface

Networkers need the ability to open up to strangers. It can be difficult for certain introverts to feel comfortable in these situations, but with networking there are no introverts or extroverts. To make great connections, share things that are deeper than surface level. The more genuine you feel the connection is, the harder you’ll want to retain it.

Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS