The Search Bar Podcast

Latest episodes

How do I get the most out of networking events?

Jan 30, 2024, 08:38 AM
Title : How do I get the most out of networking events?
Url :
Media a d a title : Link to podcast episode on YouTube called "How do I get the most out of networking events? "
Media contact name : University Communications
Media contact email :
Spotify url :
Apple podcast url :
Google podcast url :
Duration : 15 minutes
Originally published : Jan 29, 2024, 15:00 PM


Networking events can be intimidating. How can you stand out while also getting the most out of networking events? 


In this episode of The Search Bar, host Adam Sparkes interviews Deborah Gray about professional networking events. Tips for event preparation, conversation starters, how to avoid feeling overwhelmed, the biggest mistakes to avoid and more are discussed.




Adam: Networking events can be intimidating. How can you stand out while getting the most out of these events? Welcome to The Search Bar. You've got questions. Let's find some answers. I'm your host, Adam Sparkes, and on today's episode, we're searching for answers on networking. Debora Gray, professor of marketing at Central Michigan University, is here to help us do just that. Thank you for coming in to talk to me about networking. I wanted to talk specifically with you today about networking events. So, kind of those big in-person events. They can be really intimidating for a lot of people, or maybe they're not intimidating and we go into them with too much bravado. 

How do I prepare for a networking event?

Adam: I sort of wanted to talk about: how do we navigate those to make them the most effective for us? And I wanted to start by asking you, how do you prepare for one?

Deborah: Yeah, I think that's a great question. And preparing is such a stress reducer. So, I think we do have to go in prepared. Again, what is your objective? What is your objective for going to this networking event? Do you want to meet five people, four people? I like to tell people, if you want to reduce your stress, think about that goal, meet those three or four people. But it goes a little bit further than that. What's your plan of action for meeting people? And I think the first thing is a good solid handshake and a, "Hi, I’m Deborah, what's your name? Nice to meet you, Adam." And then have a couple of pre-prepped questions that you want to ask. The one thing that I tell the groups of women that I talk to about networking is that people love to talk about themselves. So, particularly for introverts, it's a little bit more difficult to talk about ourselves, to engage with folks, but it's pretty easy to get others to talk about what they're doing. So, go in with lots of questions that are already in your head. What are your interests? What do you love to do outside of work? So have some of those questions that are fairly generic that can fit any gender.

What are good conversation topics for networking?

Adam: If I'm an introvert, I can easily listen to some about someone's trip to Tahiti and I might decide that I want to go to Tahiti myself. That's the worst that comes out of that conversation, if I strike it up from that direction. Right? I mean, what do I have to lose?

Deborah: I actually have an acronym that I use in my head to help me with these things. And of course, it's golf related, but it's fore, F.O.R.E.: food, occupation, relationships and entertainment. And also ‘E’ is education. “So, where did you go to school?” “What did you love about your education?” “Did you see a concert this summer?” But food is — I'm a foodie, so I love to talk about food.

Adam: Well, everyone, right?

Deborah: And everyone eats.

Adam: What's your favorite breakfast cereal?

Deborah: Oh…

Adam: Growing up?

Deborah: We weren't fed breakfast cereal growing up.

Adam: What? Your parents are so much more responsible than mine.

Deborah: We made a lot of Cream of Wheat.

Adam: That counts. No, that's breakfast cereal.

Deborah: Is it? Okay. But not like Cheerios or Frosted Flakes.

Adam: You know what? Low-key though, Cream of Wheat…

Deborah: I do love Cream of Wheat.

Adam: Yeah.

Deborah: Cracklin’ Oat Bran!

Adam: Yeah, I like that a lot too. My dad's from a very British family, so the idea of porridge and oatmeal and these types of things is super common. So, Cream of Wheat with like — my grandmother used to put a dollop of peach preserve in the middle of it.

Deborah: Mmm. Grits, corn grits. Oh my gosh. Those are so good.

Adam: Yeah, corn grits are the best.

Deborah: With a lot of butter. But look how far we've gone with just a conversation about food. And, you know, you can introduce this in a humorous way. “Hi, I'm Deborah. Nice to meet you Adam. Okay, I always like to ask random questions when I meet someone for the first time. What's your favorite food? What's your mom's favorite recipe that she would make for you when you grew up?”

Adam: That's a good one. Chicken paprikash all the way. With the dumplings. The little spoon-sized sliding dumplings.

Deborah: And she made 'em by hand, of course.

Adam: Oh, yeah, yeah. You get the little ‘bloop’ into the water off the… oh man.

Deborah: Did she use chicken thighs?

Adam: Everything! We would do a whole chicken when we did it, yeah.

Deborah: Oh, my grandma always used thighs. Yeah. I will get recipes from people that I'm networking with, and that's also a great way to follow up. “Hey, do you…?” So, one of my favorite things to make is pesto, and I grow basil, and I've had so many people just go, “What's your pesto recipe?” It's also a great way to follow up with someone. “You know what? I googled a chicken paprikash recipe and made it last night. My family loved it.”

Adam: Did you really?

Deborah: No, no, but I'm saying that's a great way to follow up with you, Adam. And once you get someone talking about whatever it is, entertainment, recipes, it's real easy to just listen to what they're saying. So, I like to really focus on what they're saying so that I can pick up something to keep the conversation going.

Adam: What do you do when you first get there? Is there a place to stand? Do you know what I mean? Is there a way to be dressed, or to be purporting yourself, so that you seem like you're more amenable to be in a conversation with somebody or to be pulled into a conversation?

Deborah: What I like to do is, I like to just read the room, see who looks available, and dive straight in, not give it a lot of thought. I think sometimes we just let our nerves really take over. If we go in and, “Oh my gosh, who am I going to talk to?” Just let it be very natural. “Oh, I like the look of this group. They look like they're laughing.” And then sort of nudge your way in. “Hey, can I join?” Which brings me to another strategy, which I've kind come into after doing this for a number of years. Have those transitional phrases ready. Keep those in your mind. So, "Hey, can I join in?" "Oh, it was so nice to meet you, but I have a goal to meet some other folks tonight.” “It was really great to talk to you. Can I follow up with email?" And then excuse yourself from that group and move on to the next? I like to try and hit three groups at every networking event, and I use the same transitions over and over again because, if you're winging it, if you don't have your transitions sort of in your head, it just comes off a little bit more clunky, I think.

Adam: Right. And us Midwesterners have a hard time leaving a conversation anyway. 

Deborah: Yes, we do. 

Adam: Because we want to be polite. A lot of us have this [idea that] if I walk away from you, even though the conversation's maybe kind of drawing thin, I'm somehow saying that I'm disinterested in you. But it is okay to go, "Hey, I have to go and try to catch up with so-and-so," or, “Oh, I want to make sure that I catch up with somebody from X place before the event's over,” or whatever. I mean, most people, they might've been looking for a way to leave the conversation too.

Deborah: If it looks like you're not connecting with the person, change of subject. And I give it three tries. If I can't get somewhere, I'm going to excuse myself.

Adam: Yeah. “It was great to meet you."

Deborah: Sometimes the chemistry just isn't there. Or someone's had a bad day for whatever reason. They're there maybe because they have to. Just sort of reading that person. And if you're not getting anywhere, just excuse yourself and move on. And if you are rejected, just think about the people that you've rejected. There are just people that we just don't connect with, we don't have a lot of chemistry with. And I try and put myself in the other person's shoes; they're probably not feeling it either. They're probably going to be glad that I'm moving on. Again, if you have those transitions in your head and you just sort of drop everything else — I just walk without thinking, I'm going to go do this and get into this conversation. And you just got to do it. And if you put too much thought, I think we get ourselves just really ramped up, nervous. So I dive right in. And my thing is, if I can get my goals met for the night, I think it helps me from a networking perspective, but then I reward myself with something. Maybe it's a drink, or I let myself go grab some food. I give myself a little motivation to get the work done.

Adam: Even a bad conversation has value.

Deborah: Absolutely. And like you said, oftentimes we're just so nervous, or so sort of in our own head about the conversation, that we have a perception of something that's really not even happening out there. So, that's a really good example of that. And I find that very comforting. I mean, we've all had those very awkward conversations, and I've had that happen too. And even with students. I've had students in class where I go, “Gosh, I just don't feel like they understood it, or didn't hear me, or didn't connect with them.” And then they'll reach out years later and, oh my gosh, I just did not read that right. But I find that really comforting and reassuring, and I try, in my head space, when I'm out there networking — I mean, I do it. I know how to do it. But I don't love it. I don't love it, but I force myself to do it. And I just remind myself: not everybody loves doing this, and I'm probably talking with someone who's equally uncomfortable.

Who should I talk to at a networking event?

Adam: Is it the power move or is it the bad move to be like: I'm going right to the person who put this on, or right to whoever the executive in charge is. Is that the first person you should stop at, or should you work your way up the chit-chat ladder for that?

Deborah: I always find that person at the end, and that's my exit strategy. "Hey, I just wanted to come over and thank you so much for sponsoring this event. It was really wonderful. I met some new people, and thanks a lot. I've got to get going.” And that's usually my exit strategy. One of the things that I do when I enter a networking space is, if I see someone by themselves, usually that's a good person to reach out to instead of starting with a bigger group. Because I always feel like that person is looking for someone to connect with, and so I can help them, they can help me, help them be at ease a little bit. And to me, it's a little bit lower risk to go and meet one person. And then, if you're laughing and having a good time about your Tahiti or concert this summer, other people are going to want to join in your group. And that brings me to my last strategy. I try to smile! And I know that seems really forced…

Adam: Or just eye contact.

Deborah: but try and smile because we all want to be with someone who's more welcoming. So, at a networking event, I love the folks who really can get the conversation going. And I try to be that person, but I'm not always successful with it.

Adam: Neither am I all the time, either, by the way.

Deborah: Yeah. Well, and let’s acknowledge that.

How do I avoid feeling overwhelmed while networking?

Adam: Adam: Because you burn yourself out, right?

Deborah: Yeah. You do. Networking events, I think, are exhausting, because you've got to be on, present. I'm collecting all of this data in my head. But one of the things that I do — so, after I've exited a networking event — I think it's very good to quickly take notes, whether that's in your calendar, for me, it's on my phone. But I need to, right away, “Who did I talk to? What was their email? Did I get a card?” and remind myself, “Okay, here's what I gathered.” Because if we let a couple of days lapse, we're going to forget that name. We're going to forget the conversation. So yeah, put it in your spreadsheet.

Adam: I think either journaling or note-taking is so, so valuable. I do it a lot, and I don't even reference it sometimes. Sometimes writing something down is the act of making it important. 

Deborah: Absolutely. 

What networking mistakes should I avoid?

Adam: I'm hoping you can tell me about some common mistakes that I could avoid when I'm at a networking event.

Deborah: Yeah. The number one mistake to avoid is your propensity to go network with someone that you know. That's not really networking because you know the person. The number two mistake is to talk, talk, talk. We should be listening, listening, listening. And the number three is to avoid too much alcohol. I think many times we get nervous and we want to drink alcohol. We should limit our alcohol.


What should I do after the event?

Adam: You wrap up the network event — you've got through your three groups of people, you've done your check down for F.O.R.E., you've had some good conversations. What's an appropriate way to follow up with people that you felt like you either had a good conversation with or that you had a relevant business connection with?

Deborah: Yeah. I always follow up with an email, usually the next day if I can. I don't let more than 48 hours go by, but I follow up with an email. Or if they've given me a business card, often I'll leave a voicemail and just say, “Hey, wanted to touch back with you about X, Y, Z.” But there's the power of writing it down, so that you know what your plan of action is tomorrow or the next day. And maybe it's a person that you met who isn't someone that you really need in your circle, but you connected with them on a personal basis and you want to develop a friendship — reach out about what that connection was.

Adam: Get that recipe.

Deborah: Yeah, get that recipe. That's absolutely right. And people, I think we all want to be heard. And so, when you get an email after a networking event and someone says, “Oh, it was so interesting to hear about your son and his new job,” I don't know about you, but that makes me feel good. And that's the give back. I mean, we talked about giving back and that reciprocity with relationships, but that's one way to give back, is just to acknowledge that you heard the person.

What is the value of networking beyond career?

Adam: Adam: Just because it's systemic — I have a plan and I have a plan to follow up — it doesn't mean that it's not just good for someone else, too. 

Deborah: Absolutely. 

Adam: You can feel good about just the social value that you're bringing into this thing, too.

Deborah: Well, and that's that connection with things other than just occupation. So, when you can connect with people on food or activities, entertainment, that's not a false connection. It is authentic. If you've connected with them and you understand it and you're interested in it, that is authentic.

Adam: Nobody's expecting you to hold your TED Talk right there. I feel like that's the nerves that — I know I've had the pit in my stomach if I'm going to an event and there's a lot of people I don't know. Am I going to sound — do I need to sound profound? No, I probably just need to talk about falling off the side of a mountain on my last vacation (like 10 feet, not all the way down the mountain). I'm here. But those kinds of things, right?

Deborah: Yeah. I think we do need to let people in so that they can see: I'm an authentic person and I'm developing these relationships, and maybe the relationship can help me and maybe I can help the other person, but it is authentic. If you're genuinely — whatever your thing is, maybe it's not food — but whatever your thing is, that's genuine. Dungeons and Dragons? That's genuine.

Adam: That has to be very genuine.

Deborah: Yeah, yeah. Right? And it would be hard — if it's something that is important to you that you love to do, that genuineness, that is reflected in your body language. When I get started talking about golf, boy, I just...

Adam: Well, I hope that you get on the course again really soon. 

Deborah: Thank you. 

Adam: And thank you. Thanks for coming in. Thanks for talking to me about networking events, and hopefully we've helped a few people go into them with a little bit more confidence.

Deborah: Absolutely.

Adam: Thanks so much.

Deborah: Fire up Chips.

Adam: Thanks for listening to or watching The Search Bar. Make sure that you like or subscribe so that you never have to search for another episode.

A woman in a gray sport coat holding a blue folder shakes hands with a gray haired man, also in a gray sport coat.
Load more comments
Login to be able to comment
Comment by from

Meet your host

Adam Sparkes is a nearly 20-year veteran of commercial, editorial, news and travel photography. A lover of news, pop culture, board games and gluten-free pizza, Adam is eternally curious to learn about anything and everything.

In addition to his role as host for “The Search Bar,” Adam serves as CMU’s associate director of multimedia and photography where he can be found crawling on the ground or sprinting down the sidelines to get the perfect shot.

Be a guest
A bearded man wearing glasses, a sport coat, red shirt and headphones sits in front of a microphone at a table. A Fire Up Chips banner hangs on a maroon backdrop in the background.