Top Five: How to Network at a Business Event

Make networking less intimidating by projecting confidence, setting clear goals, doing research, and forming genuine connections.

Gabriella Tegen, Smartrr CEO, on how to network at a business event with Built By Girls.
Gabriella Tegen, Smartrr CEO, on how to network at a business event with Built By Girls.

Formal networking and business events can be intimidating, especially if you're just starting your career or have limited experience in professional settings. If you find yourself feeling nervous, remember others attending are also putting themselves out there in a similar way that you are.

Recently, Built by Girls had the opportunity to speak with Gabriella Tegen, the CEO of Smartrr, a leading Shopify subscription app built to increase lifetime value for e-commerce brands. Tegen shared some valuable insights on how to network effectively at business events. She emphasized the importance of exhibiting confidence, setting clear goals and intentions, conducting thorough research, and, above all, building genuine and sincere relationships while networking.

1. Conversation topics to engage with and steer clear from

"The most effective conversations start with questions. Take the time to get to know their likes, dislikes, and bring personal nuance into the conversation," said Tegen. “The goal is to form a genuine connection. That said, it never hurts to conduct some preliminary research to weave into these discussions. For instance, if you know a leader of a company you admire will be at an event, research trends in their market, new products they've" released, recent accomplishments, and company updates. This helps demonstrate genuine interest in their organization and the possibility of becoming a member of their team.

Similarly, when networking, it's always wise to ask thoughtful questions about someone's professional journey — which can often lead to deeper conversations and foster stronger connections. On the contrary, it's generally a good idea to steer clear of politics and contentious subjects when conversing with others. I'd also advise proceeding with caution and reading the cues of a conversation before diving into sensitive current events," explained Tegen.

"Since these topics can be touchy and elicit strong reactions or divergent viewpoints, do your best not to initiate a conversation unless it feels really organic. Lead with confidence! It's necessary to remind yourself that you're worthy of great opportunities in order to feel empowered to engage in any conversation effectively. Along those same lines, ahead of networking events, it's helpful to acknowledge what is unique about your particular experience or skill set and figure out how to convey that compellingly," Tegen expresses

It's wise to steer clear of political or controversial topics. These kinds of subjects can be touchy and spark strong emotions, so it's important to pay attention to the tone of the conversation before jumping into them. Unless the topic comes up on its own, it's often best to avoid bringing them up altogether.

2. Network attire

"First and foremost, don't be afraid to ask what the dress code is for the event. If you are unsure, it's best to confirm with the host of the event to give you a good idea of what others will be adhering to," said Tegen. "Not to mention, sending a relevant question to the event leader is a great way to get on their radar before the event even starts and demonstrates proactive behavior. Beyond that, look good - feel good! Wear what you feel confident in. Some days that might be slacks with a new belt you purchased the weekend before; some days, it might be a dress with heels. Variation is ok, but the consistent thing is to wear something that makes you feel comfortable. There is no statement necklace or new top that will make you stand out as much as confidence," says Tegen.

Gabriella Tegen, Smartrr CEO, on how to network at a business event with Built By Girls.
Gabriella Tegen, Smartrr CEO, on how to network at a business event with Built By Girls.

3. Effective methods of following up with someone after an event

"Follow up within 24 hours of meeting someone at a networking event. Send a follow-up thank you email or Linkedin message. In this approach, mention something specific that you discussed or found interesting such as a trip they are going on, a new role, or a project they are currently working on," according to Tegen. "Keep the tone friendly and professional, and consider including a call-to-action, such as scheduling a follow-up meeting with suggested times to choose from or sharing relevant resources.

"After you've connected with someone via LinkedIn, it's also beneficial to show continued interest in their work by engaging with their posts related to the event or relevant industry topics. Liking, commenting, or sharing their content can help keep the conversation going and demonstrate your active engagement."

"Also, I always send a follow-up even if there isn't something specific you want from or can offer the person," explains Tegen. "In fact, a thoughtful note without any agenda is a great way to begin a relationship. You truly never know who you may overlap with in the future!"

When engaging in conversations, it's important to prioritize genuine connection over self-promotion. One effective approach is to actively listen and ask thoughtful questions. By demonstrating interest in others, you demonstrate humility and emotional intelligence while also gaining valuable insights. Additionally, conducting thorough research beforehand can greatly enhance the quality of your interactions.

4. Networking in the tech industry

"If you want to succeed in the tech industry, attending industry events is a great way to level up your career. My rule of thumb is to try the things that, at surface level, you think will make you uncomfortable," explains Tegen. "In professional settings, going beyond your comfort zone usually results in a net positive outcome. You never know who you'll meet or who might connect you to your next role, and given the layoffs taking place in the tech community at the moment, it's best to arm yourself with others who will advocate on your behalf."

"Accordingly, it's great to get more granular into the tech industry to understand your niche. For example, the Shopify community is an extremely tight-knit group of people. You'll find that once you dive into a niche group, everyone seems to know each other. Once you discover your specialty within the tech industry, I recommend you join online communities where industry discourse takes place, states Tegen.

"Last but not least, stay up to date with trends in the tech space," Tegen says. "These timely happenings will always serve as conversation starters and demonstrate your wealth of knowledge."

5. Be prepared

"Ensure you have a healthy supply of business cards and/or resumes for any networking or professional event. Business cards act as a powerful "call to action," facilitating the next steps toward achieving your networking goals," said Tegen. "They also serve as tangible reminders of your interaction and provide a convenient way to further foster meaningful connections and opportunities. Another underutilized resource is the QR code scanner on LinkedIn. These days, professionals use business cards and LinkedIn interchangeably — so it's important to know how to easily access this QR code scanner to make exchanging LinkedIn profiles as seamless as possible."

Business cards ( virtual business cards like Blinq also work), as well as professional profiles, are powerful tools for networking and can provide a tangible reminder of your interaction. It's essential to know how to easily access both business cards and LinkedIn to foster meaningful connections.

"Ultimately, leading with warmth, curiosity, and confidence — along with doing your homework both before and after a professional interaction — will help you make the best impression and will take you far in your career," said Tegen.