May 1

Here’s how to prepare for networking session (no hacks needed!)


Hand on heart, you hate networking sessions.

I mean, who likes it?

If you take a step back to look at what we are really doing at networking sessions, you would probably realise it does look pretty ridiculous.

People gathering in a room. Eating (hopefully free) food. And hoping to get some useful ‘connection’ after that.

Oh don’t get me started on the many times when I’ve been in rooms where someone has approached me, trying to pass me his card, even though I’ve not shown the slightest interest in what he’s doing.

For most of these people, you would probably see them looking over your shoulder, trying to find the next ‘valuable’ connection they should make.

Or you might see them telling you to scan their e-card, or to add them on LinkedIn.

Nope, stuffing your LinkedIn profile into everyone’s hands is not the way.
Nope, stuffing your LinkedIn profile into everyone’s hands is not the way.

But you’re probably different. You’re here because you hate that kind of networking.

Where people are pushing name cards into your hands, where they don’t really bother about who you are, beyond the job title you have.

What do I define as networking?

I would say networking is a little more broad than explicit ‘networking events’.

I would define it as:

  1. Learning opportunities where learn something new, and meet new people – this might mean talks, conferences that I attend
  2. Pop-up fairs, for example at the likes of Crane, where I get to meet small business owners who might have use for our marketing services
  3. Baby showers – the funniest one I’ve been to is one where a business owner invited all the people from his BNI (Business Network International) chapter to come.

But does networking really work?

Many people may talk about how important it is to ‘have a network’, but you don’t really hear them talk about why.

The most common reasons are:

  1. You can find a mentor that will grow you
  2. You can find a sponsor that will speak up for you or promote you within your current company
  3. You can build business opportunities.

But from my own experiences, I’ve hardly remembered a time when someone in the crowd has really added something to my business.

If I look back at the opportunities where I’ve grown my business in networking events, they have been:

  1. When I’ve directly approached the speaker for a conversation or a question I’ve had
  2. When I’ve had deeper conversations with business owners at pop up stores

So what should you do to prepare for networking events?

Don’t go there for the network, but for what you can learn

There are the many times when you’ve probably stood in the networking room, seeing everyone in private conversations, and you wonder,


Why am I here?

There’s a chill that runs down your back when you suddenly realise the enormous effort it’s going to take for you to connect with others there.

I’ve been in many alumni dinners where I’ve forked out $39, and wondered why I took the time to go there.

I don’t think it makes sense for you to just enter explicit ‘networking events’, especially if you’re an introvert and trying to connect to more people drains you.

My first advice thus is for you to choose your events well. Don’t just go for every event invite you get, but understand if you’d really be interested in the topic at hand.

See networking as building Lego. It’s block by block, and not something you should try to accelerate.
See networking as building Lego. It’s block by block, and not something you should try to accelerate.

The worst kind of networking sessions are those that are ‘networking’. Those that I’ve been to have ended up becoming a random mishmash of conversation with no real purpose.

Networking is really a

Purpose-driven opportunity for conversation.

You have people who you are trying to sell to, and others who are trying to sell to you.

If you’re just there to try to get ‘a connection’ to someone famous, or get someone to take note of you, it’s going to be really tough.

Know why you’re going there

You need to realise that first, and fast.

If you’re just doing it because you’ve heard friends telling you about the importance of networking, forget about it.

Don’t do it.

You’re going to find yourself high, and dry, and not really sure where you’ve gotten.

From what I’ve seen from other young working adults, their foremost reasons often are:

  1. To ‘build connections’
    1. This is honestly not a great reason because you can’t take the LinkedIn approach to an in-person event.
    2. People there are going to be busy, and you need to add to their lives, before you actually expect them to add to yours.

Well, rest.

If you’re a natural introvert, and find yourself drained by meeting new people, take time to conserve your social energy if you know a networking event is coming up.

For me, a good rule of thumb is that I wouldn’t go for more than 2 networking events per week.

But more importantly, before you do go for the networking event, or any event where you’re meeting new people, take time to understand

  1. What you want to get out of the event (beyond just name cards and connections)
  2. A question you have about the topic being shared about.
Think of a question to ask
Think of a question to ask

Learn to elbow your way in

I’m not kidding about the rest. Because networking events can be brutal, especially in the business community where people do know what they are doing.

I remember watching this muscly founder, who talked about this SAAS (software as a service) he was building (and figure-dropping how much he thought it was worth), moving around the tables, uninvited.

He would move from table to table, giving a firm handshake to everyone, and asking people what they did.

Well, if you’re new to this game, and you’re playing this game in Singapore, you would realise that most people aren’t that pushy.

Especially in the less business-explicit networking events.

For example, at the National Youth Council’s Holler events, where they organise events with ministers, or personal development events like career talks, you would find people coming with friends.

Well, if you want to build your network, then learn to swallow your pride, and just ask,

Can I join you?

If you see people congregating in groups, often the difficulty is elbowing your way in. It can feel weird and strange to just walk into a prior conversation.

One speaker I saw was once very gracious in how she did this.

She would see people queuing up to speak to her, and then invite them into the wider circle.

There’s no neat and tidy way to join pre-existing circles of conversation beyond just walking confidently into the gap and just asking,

Can I join you?

It would be really dumb for anyone in that circle to say ‘No’.

Hold your own (glass)

You can tell how seasoned someone is at networking from how he speaks with others.

He’s not constantly trying to latch on to someone else’s point, but he demonstrates true, independent thought.

I recall someone I saw recently at a networking event dressed in a fancy suit, with his hair gelled back.

I was impressed by his dressing.

But I wasn’t too impressed when he started opening his mouth.

He was latching onto every point I was trying to make to the speaker.

I would say something before he interjected.

He was a real pain in the ass.

Before going into a networking event, I often suggest

  1. You read up on the topic that will be discussed
  2. Have a question at the back of your mind
  3. Establish a stand you have on the topic, back up that stand, and demonstrate that you’ve known the counterpoints to that, and why you disagree
    1. It’s like writing an essay.
  4. And read around the topic, so that you have some insights.

Don’t, don’t, don’t copy what you’ve read from some commentary.

Rather than reading many things, I would suggest that you read deep into a single commentary, and try to understand a single point of view, before you skip and scroll to another more interesting article on the topic.

Networking is not about finding connections

If you remind yourself that you’re not there for the connection, things will be much easier.

Instead, go there trying to learn something from someone new.

Don’t go there expecting people to give to you, just because you’re there and you asked something from them. Instead, give them an insight that they’ve never thought about before.

Don’t go there thinking that you’re there to get the contact details of someone famous.

Instead, go there trying to make someone famous, even more famous. Add to their lives, before you expect them to add to yours.

Lastly, go to give. Don’t just give to get.

Nah you don’t have to sing songs to get the attention of others. Just impress them with your insights.
Nah you don’t have to sing songs to get the attention of others. Just impress them with your insights.

You’ll get more that way.



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