How to be effective at casual networking events

You may well be attending formal networking events on a regular basis. For these to be of maximum benefit to you will probably:

  • Have practiced your 1 minute ‘elevator pitch’ and ensured that it grabs attention by being full of benefits not feature
  • Be fully prepared with business cards, props and other sales tools at the ready

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These events can make you feel comfortable as you are in familiar surroundings with familiar faces.

However, there can be real value in attending less formal events and in some ways, informal networking events can be more intimidating than formal networking groups. When registering upon arrival, you may find yourself entering in to a room full of people chatting away and wondering where to start!

You may find it more difficult to know how to work a room in a more casual networking event. This is where our focus should be on ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ networking. For our purposes here, we define “push” and “pull” as follows:

  • Push: Where you tell people generally what you do and how it solves their problems. This is generally used for groups or where there is little time to spend with someone that you have to get your elevator pitch in
  • Pull: Where you ask people about themselves so you can identify their needs and then tailor what you say, so that they are encouraged to come to their own decision as to how you might help them. This is generally used 1-to-1 where you have more time to explore.

The first thing to do is to remember the golden rules at the beginning of this guide and prepare yourself mentally.

As you enter the room, don’t see the people as one big group. Survey the room and you will see that there are individuals on their own, small groups of 2 to3 people and much larger groups.

Where to Start

Here are some practical tips to get you talking to people quickly:

Look out for people you know and get underway with them – they will soon introduce you to others. If this contact is already a close associate, as he/she moves on, try to separate and use the contacts they have introduced to you as your next networking. You can always agree to meet up later and compare notes.

Single people: They won’t know anyone and will appreciate you breaking the ice.

Small open groups: Ones where body language and stance shows people are open to welcome new entrants. Look out for groups:

  • In a horseshoe shape or (with a group of three) a loose triangle – not in a tight format, looking inwards
  • Not involved in intense discussion, but where you can hear general chat.
  • Where there seem to be several discussions going on. You’ll be surprised as to how a seemingly large group can actually be made up of sub divided members
  • With anyone looking around outside the group, with a welcoming smile/relaxed posture. Gain eye contact and make the approach with a brief introduction and extended hand to encourage a handshake

Put simply-look for groups where you can see welcoming faces, not hunched backs!

Don’t Make Things Difficult for Yourself

Leave closed groups alone! They are happy as they are at present. If there is someone you particularly want to see, wait for a more opportune moment.

Don’t enter larger groups unless you know someone within it: If this is the situation, walk up to your contact and say ‘hello’-he/she will quickly get you involved with the group if you ask!

What Should I Say?

At the formal networking event, it is acceptable to tell people what you do, it’s okay to ‘push’ your message out to the group but at casual networking events, it tends to be better to chat to people, get to know each other and just develop relationships. Allow people time to get to know you personally, about your personal likes and dislikes. You can still use the method of researching companies and people before you go but then focus on the person standing in front of you and don’t look at them just as a ‘company’ or ‘potential customer’.

Try to move the conversation away from business and on to a more personal level as this relaxes them and they feel more able to just chat. Remember that you do this day-in-day-out when you meet people grabbing a coffee in the kitchen, waiting on the platform, standing in line or on the train. Casual networking is really no different from these situations.

If you are able to find something unusual about you, or better still them, focus on that e.g. “My wife and I have just completed a tour of Italy for our 30th Anniversary.” Use this style of information to really engage people and they are then more likely to remember you.


At one event I met Chris and, as usual, I moved the conversation away from business because he told me that he’d just come back from holiday. I immediately thought this is an opportunity to build rapport and get to know ‘the person’. We then started talking about his safari and mountaineering holiday, both of which I had done and still do, and spent 25 minutes chatting about that.

People will buy from you because they like you ‘and’ you have a service or product they want. However, if you have a service or product they want ‘and’ they don’t like you, they will not buy from you. How many times have you come out of a restaurant, having received rude service from the staff and said “I’m never going back there!’ despite the food being good.

Chris and I got on very well and after 25 minutes he said to me, “I suppose I should ask you what you do.” When I told him he immediately said, “You must come into my company and do some work with us.” The 25 minutes spent with Chris just chatting, getting to know him and developing a relationship resulted in two lots of work with his company.

Focus on the person in front of you and listen carefully for things that will enable you to get to know the person. It is very likely that conversation around work will follow but you’re not ‘pushing’ your message out, you’re ‘pulling’ the person in to like you and they are then much more likely to buy your product or service.



I received one recently where I’d been at a casual networking event and had a really good chat with someone who then sent me a message four days later saying “Dear Stewart [wrong name!], it was good to meet you last night or we may have chatted recently on the phone”. What does that tell you about this person?

This is not the time to ‘push’ your message out but the time to ‘pull’ people into you as a person and not a company

For more advice on networking, please contact me.


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