Yes, networking events often suck. What’s new? But wait … what if there was a trick, a shortcut to get you talking to others without you having to do the hard work? Networking would become immeasurably better. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it’s not … exactly.
The trick is to stand out from the crowd. Get noticed at a networking event and people will come to you!
Getting noticed is a convenient, non-threatening way to get others to approach you rather than you having to start a conversation with them. It may require stepping out of your comfort zone, but many successful networkers attest to its effectiveness.
It’s sounds simple but it’s a little more involved than that.
Why Stand Out to Get Noticed?
Most people want to blend in rather than stand out and that’s precisely why doing this works. It juxtaposes you against a sea of conformity. It attracts attention, making you noticeable. In the minds of your fellow networking event attendees, your willingness to be different hints as a non-conformity that would make you interesting and worth talking to. Most of your fellow attendees would assume that you have an interesting story to tell and would be keen to hear it.
More importantly, your non-conformity gives other attendees a way to start a conversation with you by commenting on that very thing that makes you stand out. You are making it easy for them to approach you, which means many of them most probably will.
It Can Reduce or Increase Networking Awkwardness – You Choose
Okay, reality check! This standing out from the crowd idea is a double-edged sword. Although it can make it easier for others to approach you – even if you are the type who hovers self-consciously around the fringes of networking events – standing out might make you feel awkward with the attention of strangers on you.
Most of us have a fear of being ridiculed and we think that if we stand out in any way, this is sure to happen. However, as long as you don’t take outrageous risks with your appearance, the chances of being embarrassed are low. Sure, you may get some strange looks from prudes and those judgmental types, but they are most probably simply jealous that you have the gall to pull it off, and they don’t.
The benefits of standing out far outweigh simply conforming, and the trick is to “own” your individuality. As with everything, if you attend networking events at which you stand out, you will find that doing so will become easier and your self-consciousness will abate over time, being replaced with confidence.
Remember, People WANT to Talk to You
One thing that is often forgotten by people at networking events is that virtually everyone in attendance wants to engage with the other people there. So, the battle is half won already.
By standing out from the crowd, you are signaling to everyone around you that you are willing to take a risk to meet them. What is more, you are giving them a way to start a conversation with you. It’s like you are handing them an invitation on a silver platter.
So, how do you get noticed in a networking crowd?
Creating YOUR Presence at Networking Events
According to Kara Ronin in her article on The Muse, here are a few good ways to get noticed at events;
- You need to dress for impact – You need to dress in something that will stand out. Avoid plain business suits that will see you blend in with the herd.
- Make eye contact – Be sure to keep your gaze fixed on the upper face of the person you are talking to. This will help you come across as being attentive and engaged.
- Your body language needs to say “powerful” – Stand up straight, shoulders back. Don’t slouch or fold your arms.
- Focus on voice confidence – Avoid voice lilting and sloppy vocabulary.
Most of these tips are common sense and fairly uninspiring, even if they are essential for making a memorable overall impression. However, if you, like me, struggle to follow the “eye contact, shoulders back, commanding voice” mantra when meeting new people, “dressing for impact” is something anyone can do.
Engage to Be Noticed
In an article by Ivy Cadwell Shelden, the author found that she attracted attendees to engage with her after she asked questions during the Q&A session at events. It seems so simple, but it makes sense. By asking questions, she was able to “stand out from the crowd” (literally) and give other attendees a way to initiate a conversation with her.
So, if you attend an event where there is a Q&A session – and you can think of a pertinent question – then try this tactic out. As the author above can testify, it works and will increase the likelihood of people approaching you.
Dressing Quirky vs. Dressing Powerful
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. How should you dress to stand out?
The way you dress for an event depends on your personality and the type of the event as well.
If it’s a corporate affair, going in a T-shirt and jeans will definitely make you stand out, but the impression you will make may not be positive – unless you carry it off with over-the-top confidence, or if you’re the founder of the next Facebook.
For most of us, you don’t have to be so radical. Where everyone else is wearing dark power suits, a burgundy blazer and matching tie (for men) or a red business suit (for ladies), will definitely make you stand out. You can accentuate this with a pin or token that is easily noticeable and can be a backup conversation starter (see below).
If you don’t want to take that much of a risk, you could always opt for ditching the bright clothing and stick just with a lapel pin that could be used to spark an interesting conversation. This could be a rotary or Lions pin or the insignia of a military or civil protection organization you are or have been, involved with.
Some other ideas for subtle accoutrements you can use to start conversations are;
- A bangle or wristband, perhaps something exotic.
- A signet or other ring, perhaps from an alma mater or military unit.
- An interesting scarf, cravat or pocket handkerchief.
- A unique, colorful pair of earrings. Make sure they are clearly visible, though.
However, these small items can often be overlooked, so they are not ideal. Remember, the pin or token needs to be easily noticeable to be effective.
As for events that are not corporate or formal, far more options become available. Here are a few ideas that are known to have worked for people at networking events;
- Have a T-shirt with an interesting message or question printed on it. This is a really great way to invite people to engage with you as it presents an easy engagement point. If you go this route, make sure that the message is easily readable from some distance, and should be printed in a large clear font in contrasting colors (for example white text on a black shirt or vice versa). Remember, the message should not be your business USP or elevator pitch. Its purpose is to pique the interest of the people around you so they engage with you.
- Wear a conversation-initiating hat, something else that you perhaps picked up on your travels (especially if you can tie this into what you do).
- Wear a costume. I heard a story about someone who wore a white lab coat and stethoscope to networking events, calling himself the “Deal Doctor”. Suffice it to say, he made more connections than he knew what to do with. You can use your imagination here. Wear a cape and call yourself “Super (whatever it is you do)” or a crown and say that you are the “Queen of (whatever you do)”. The sky is the limit.
- Carry something. I have heard of people carrying balloons into events. This can get the whole room to notice you and what is more, if you put your business card inside the balloons, you can give them to the people you meet. Just make sure they don’t float away.
Buck the Trends with Your Own Style
If you take inspiration from someone else, be sure not to copy them outright. Take whatever you think is effective in the way they present themselves and change it to make it your own. Trying to stand out can backfire if you simply mimic someone else or copy something you saw on Instagram.
Work Out Your “Story”
Whatever you use to stand out, make sure you are prepared to answer questions about why you are dressed in that way or wearing a particular accouterment. If there is a story behind it, so much the better. And be honest. If you are doing it so others will initiate conversations with you because you hate breaking the ice, say so.
Getting over the Self-Consciousness
You may be thinking,
“I could never do that. I would hate to look foolish.”
Well, that’s how most people regard standing out and that’s precisely why most of them hate networking. Yes, it takes courage to try this, but if it works, it could make a world of difference to you and your business, increasing your self-confidence and connecting you with people you wouldn’t otherwise have met. And as with anything, the more you practice and refine standing out, the easier it becomes and the more effectively you can use it to supercharge your network.
Plus, if it doesn’t work, then all that happens is that you don’t meet anyone – although you will most probably still be noticed. It’s not as if you’re going to bump into any of the people in attendance again soon anyway.
Getting Noticed When Networking Online
But what about standing out and being noticeable online?
At a networking event, people look at your person, your attire and the way you carry yourself before deciding whether or not they want to engage with you. The analogous situation online is that they view your profile.
This is where you can set yourself apart. Using a creative photo and introduction of yourself on platforms like LinkedIn can help you stand out. Don’t forget to carry this across to the “About” page on your website (hopefully, you have both a LinkedIn profile and website. If not, set them up).
The problem here is that while you can adapt your appearance for the type of person you’ll likely encounter at a networking event (suit and tie at a corporate shindig and clown costume at an informal networking meetup at a pub), your online profile will be accessed by all manner of people. So, making it too edgy might push some people away. However, if you want to portray yourself as a non-conformist that is willing to take a risk to stand out, then it’s a good place to do it and it will most probably be effective.
The advantage of building a creative profile is that you can portray yourself in exactly the way you want. You can take the time to craft an inspiring, memorable and engaging invitation to engage with you.
At the end of the day, standing out from the crowd makes your networking, both on and offline, more effective.
Most people are put off from taking the risk to set themselves apart by the threat of embarrassment but, realistically, unless you really abandon all restraint, the likelihood of being laughed at is low. Consequently, spending some time working on being distinctive at networking events (as well as online) is worth the effort.
Who knows who you’ll meet at your next networking event if you take a bit of a risk and stand out from the crowd?