Starting a conversation at financial industry networking events — such as the upcoming NIBA and CTA Expo / Emerging Manager Forum events in New York on April 26th and 27th — doesn’t have to be difficult. I’ve compiled some tips for breaking the ice at networking events that work for me and our team here at Gate 39 Media. And we think they’ll work for you, too!
- CONNECT THE DOTS
The financial, hedge fund, and alternative investing space is relatively small. And if you’ve been in the industry for some time, chances are there are even fewer degrees of separation between you and the potential connection standing next to you. If an attendee’s firm is listed on their conference name tag and you happen to know someone who works (or has worked) at that company, ask the potential contact if they know your contact. A conversation is sure to progress if there is a common anchor point.
- …OR CREATE NEW DOTS
And if not, simply leverage the unfamiliar by asking: “I haven’t heard of (company name) – and what do you do?” Or, “Is this your first time attending this event? How are you enjoying it so far?”
- KNOW THE NEWS
The regulatory changes and news surrounding the financial community are non-stop. Chances are there is breaking news that a potential connection hadn’t heard of that you can use to make inroads to a conversation. “What do you think about the recent cybersecurity issues?” And likewise, if someone else is informed on a piece of news or new industry announcement, use it as an opportunity to learn while you get to know the person.
- STAND NEAR THE REGISTRATION TABLE
Take advantage of the traffic flow at an event’s registration table. Attendees grabbing their name tag are typically the most interested in seeking someone to communicate with just after arriving. By approaching them and making them feel welcome early on, you’re sure to make a positive first impression. Saying, “Looks like a great turnout.” could be enough to start an early conversation.
- TOSS UP THE BIG APPLE
Use the CTA Expo location (Stewart Hotel – 371 Seventh Avenue) and New York City itself to establish conversation: “Have you tried the restaurant Friedman’s on 31st Street?” Or “Do you know any place near here where I could get authentic New York-style pizza?” And if you’ve been to New York and are familiar with the local landscape, you are in the position to make informed recommendations to those attendees who might not be as familiar as you. Helpful recommendations are a fool-proof way to develop a new contact.
- STAND BY A FOOD TABLE
People tend to grab their drinks and go at the bar. However, people tend to be more accessible to conversation near buffets and food tables. “Everything looks so good – what are you going to go with?” Once their plates are full they will likely seek a flat surface. Politely ask if you can join them. (And chances are good that they’ll say “yes”.)
- MAKE THE FIRST MOVE
If you see someone standing alone, a little boldness can go a long way in forging new business relationships. A simple “Hello” and a handshake is a natural way to start a conversation. Start by saying something like, “I’m (your name) with (company name), and you are?” Then you’re basically in the door to ask a natural procession of questions such as “Where is your company based?” or “How long have you been in the industry?”
- TELL THEM HOW GREAT THEY LOOK
Compliment someone’s clothing and be genuine about it. Two words such as “Great shoes” can open a door to conversation, even if it doesn’t start out as “shop talk”. People love to receive tactful compliments and by extending a kind word, you can set the person more at ease than simply jumping in to ask them what their biggest business hurdle is.
- MOVE AMONG STRANGERS
Whether the event is largely a sit-down event with sessions and panels or a stand-up event where you’re expected to mingle, don’t sit or stand by a friend or associate (you already know them!) – be sure to move among people who you don’t know. You’ll have a genuine opportunity to form new relationships between sessions.
- TALK ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
If you get stuck or forget about the other tips in this article, find me (Shane Stiles) or Gate 39 Media’s Project Manager, Holli Kranz, at the NIBA and CTA Expo / Emerging Manager Forum events – we’ll be happy to discuss and unpack the networking ideas in this article.
In addition to these tips, matching someone’s speaking pace and volume, taking notes, listening more than you talk, spending only about 10 minutes per person unless they are genuinely interested, and following up appropriately will help you become a better networker and develop your industry contacts at events such as CTA Expo.
We look forward to seeing you there!