The Art of “Small Talk” at Networking Events (Part 1: Before You Arrive)

Written by Paige Dawson Rodriguez on Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Over the years I’ve planned and attended hundreds of events as well as helped our clients do the same for hundreds more. For most folks it takes lots of practice (and a few awkward conversations or moments of silence along the way) to feel comfortable entering and chatting with a room full of total strangers. Granted the more years of experience you have in your career and life overall, the higher chance you might know one or two souls in the room.

From personal experience as well as counseling young attorneys, architects, sales people, and other types, I’ve honed a list of tried-and-true tips to help you break the ice at your next event.

This post series is divided into three parts: preparing, attending, and exiting events. This first post will discuss the dos and don’ts for before and when you arrive at an event.

Before You Arrive

A successful networking event starts before you ever arrive at the venue.

  1. Scan the event program to identify speakers, attending companies, sponsors, etc. This helps you get a better feel for the event as well as fodder for your conversations. Plus, you can identify any great connections and folks you want to meet while there.
  2. Post on your social media accounts that you are attending the event and look forward to seeing folks there, hearing the speaker, etc. You can do this when you register and the day before or day of again.
  3. Have your business card system in order before you get to the event. First, bring a stack of cards with you!
    • If you have pockets in your attire, I find it a good system to have my cards to give out in the right pocket and use the left pocket for the cards I receive. If it’s my purse or briefcase or folio, I employ a similar system with two compartments.
    • My colleague, Maureen Paulsen, penned a short read on business card sharing tips that you may find interesting as well.
  4. Bring along two pens as well as a small notepad to jot down anything of merit.
  5. Review your small tip conversation starter list of questions so it’s fresh in your mind.


When You Arrive

A few pointers to get out of the way first…these really should be common sense, but I’m blown away at every event to see multiple people committing these errors.

  1. Put your name tag on the right side of your body between your upper chest and shoulder. Yes, really…the right side per etiquette books.
  2. Don’t be the person in the room huddled with your colleagues and don’t just latch onto one attendee the entire time. Similarly, don’t sit in the corner or at the bar…or hide out in the restroom (yes, I’ve seen people do that).
  3. Don’t use your smart phone as your security blanket with your head down and typing. Put the phone away and be present.
  4. Toss out the gum before entering the room. It’s quite unappealing to have a conversation with someone chewing gum in general, especially at a business event.
  5. Don’t overload your buffet plate with food or your mouth with large bites. Both make you appear unapproachable and conversation difficult. Oh, and….please chew with your mouth closed.


Next week, I’ll share techniques and 20+ questions to help you get the conversation started. These are great options for when you don’t know a soul at the event.

About Paige Dawson Rodriguez

Paige Dawson RodriguezWith expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson Rodriguez brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.