Sara Edenfield professional photo

Sara Edenfield

Director, Consulting Expert

We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of the week and you’re thinking about how many meetings you have left before you can emerge from your home office and get some fresh air. Then, a meeting invite comes in - but, this one’s different. Under “location”, you don’t see a URL but an actual, physical location. Your first reaction is, understandably, shock. “Yay! I get to see people! In real life!”. And then you realize “Yikes! I have to see people in real life.” Do I even have clothes that aren’t yoga pants or basketball shorts? Can I still fit in them? Wait, forget all that, how do I even talk to people without the comfort of a screen and a curated agenda?

Emerging from pandemic-related shutdowns for many has been both invigorating and terrifying. To quell my nerves about resurfacing into business and social events, I’ve found myself rehearsing the fundamentals of attending and maximizing in-person events.

Plan ahead 

Set an intention. Any task feels overwhelming without a plan—and networking is no different. Before walking into the room, establish your intention for the event: Do you want to meet specific people, learn about a certain topic, or are you simply there to meet as many people as possible? When I can articulate my desired outcome ahead of time, I enter the room with purpose (and purpose generally leads to confidence).

Icebreaker. Take the pressure off of carrying a conversation by encouraging the other person to talk about something they know a lot about—themselves! Being prepared with a few go-to conversation starters (that have nothing to do with the weather) makes engaging people easier. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • How did you hear about this event?
  • Tell me about your journey to your current role?
  • What’s the most challenging/rewarding part of your role?
  • What do you like to do when you’re not in the office?
  • If you could do something other than what you’re doing for work now, what would it be?

Graceful exit. Moving gracefully from one conversation to the next is a necessity to maximize your time and opportunity at an event. It’s easy to get invested in a conversation and sometimes difficult to pull away to make the next connection. Having a prepared conversation ender helps me exit any conversation (even the uncomfortable ones) with grace and gratitude. My go-to: “It has been so nice connecting with you and I don’t want to take up all your time. If I don’t run into you later, I hope you enjoy the rest of the event.”

Get personal

Hello, friend. When I approach someone, I imagine that I’m walking toward a dear friend—my posture opens, my eyes brighten, my smile widens, and my voice lifts. Greeting people with the warmth of an old friend instantly erases unease on both sides of the introduction.

Establish a personal connection. Make a lasting and memorable connection by limiting the small talk that gives networking events a bad name. To get beyond the small talk quickly, share something personal—chances are that when I disclose something personal, the other person will do the same. Revealing interests, a favorite vacation, a personal/professional goal or challenge opens the door for personal connection and lays the foundation for future conversations.

It’s all about them. Embrace a mindset that it is better to give than to receive. One of the biggest mental roadblocks to overcome with networking is focusing myopically on how the contact can benefit you and your career. When you shift your focus to how you can help the other person, you get to enjoy one of the best parts of networking—building connections beyond yourself.

With a little bit of positive self-talk and a quick dusting off of networking skills, I’ve emerged from my pandemic hibernation prepared and excited to rekindle professional relationships that waned due to the detachment caused by virtual meetings. Technology has come a long way but there’s just no replacement for connecting face to face. The best part of my career at CGI is living and working in the same community as my clients. With this geographic model, it’s easier to make connections, share local knowledge, and support our communities. Building these relationships with clients and prospects has been a highlight of my consulting career—learning about their professional journey, their organization’s goals, even their favorite restaurants! 

As we look toward a bright future of in-person events, join me in dusting off the networking cobwebs—say “yes!” to your next networking event, make a plan, get personal and become a networking all-star!

Ready to dust off your networking skills? Connect with a CGI expert at an upcoming industry event or conference.

Explore the CGI Advantage Media Center

About this author

Sara Edenfield professional photo

Sara Edenfield

Director, Consulting Expert

Sara Edenfield is a Director of Business Development with CGI where she partners with state and local government clients in their transformation journeys. Over her twenty-year career, she has supported clients in both public and private sector to define strategies and solutions for modernizing their ...