When you are looking for a job, seeking clients, or building your business, going to professional networking events is a must-do. They offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with people in your field who have the same interests. That's the plus side. On the down side, networking events can also be stressful and intimidating to navigate, especially if you are not feeling your most confident.

Here are a few suggestions to help you walk into a networking event with self confidence and with a plan for success:

Choose your goals ahead of time

I'm going to make a big assumption that you want to feel successful at the end of a networking event. Yes? If that's the case, then you need to be very clear about your goals. Before each event, take a few minutes and identify the actions or outcomes that would make you feel like the event was a success. Depending on the type of event and the attendees, your goals might include making a few connections with folks you are excited to follow up with; meeting that one person you've been dying to meet; or getting an answer to a question you've been pondering. If you set an intention, you are much more likely to achieve it. Choose a few small goals that you can achieve so that you will feel successful and accomplished upon leaving the event.

Practice your personal introduction

Networking events are the perfect playground in which to practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a concise (no longer than 30 seconds) personal introduction. It’s a way share an interesting tidbit about your work or professional interests, as a way to begin a conversation. Think of the opportunity -- you'll be in a room filled with people who don't know you but are there to learn about you.

As you make your way around the room, you can try out different versions of your elevator pitch and take note of how people respond. You'll see instantly which introductions invite more conversation and which cause your listener's eyes to wander. I always remind my clients to have fun and try something new. For example, when meeting new people, I might say "I help professionals transform self-doubt into confidence so they can lead without worrying." Or I might say something completely different, like "I am a life purpose expert who reconnects people to their purpose so they can feel fulfilled at home and a work." Get the idea? There are always different ways to describe what you do -- the key is to believe in what you say.

Have an exit strategy

At my networking classes, participants always ask about the rules of ending a conversation at a networking event. Yes, it is completely fine to politely end a conversation that has been going on too long. After all, most people expect to make at least a few connections at an event. When you have run out of topics to talk about, or are ready to extricate yourself from a conversation, be sure to do it politely and graciously. Smile and thank the person for his or her time. Be appreciative of his or her interest in you. Then, depending on the situation, end with something like:

  • Can I have your card and contact you to talk further?
  • Can I introduce you to...?
  • I need to get something to eat/drink.
  • I need to step out and make a quick phone call.

Try out these suggestions and see what you notice at your next networking event. Remember that it's a great opportunity to practice your confidence, hone your personal introduction elevator pitch, and tell people about the cool work you do. And don't forget to smile!

Executive and Career Coach Deb ElbaumDeb Elbaum is a coach, author, and speaker who loves helping professionals create change with confidence. Before becoming a coach, she trained as a physician and worked as a medical writer. She is now in the business of helping people be effective, calm, and confident in all parts of their life as an Executive, Leadership, and Career Coach. She lives in the Boston area with her family, and is an active and enthusiastic Toastmasters member.

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