It’s happened to the best of us: you start talking with a new connection, exchange a few pleasantries… and suddenly you realize you have nothing to say. There’s painful silence.

You freeze up, hem and haw a bit, then escape with an awkward murmur about “needing a drink.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With a little preparation, you can network like a pro and walk away from any event with business cards, new friends, and strong connections. Here are five networking tips from the Chicagoland Chamber’s own Jan Kostner, the Senior Vice President of Membership and Corporate Relations.

  1. Do your homework. At Chamber events, like the upcoming Business After Business at House of Blues Chicago, you can get an advance list of people who will be in attendance. Take advantage of this and learn about the people you want to talk to. Linkedin is a great place to start, but check out their Twitter, Instagram, or Tik Tok accounts to find out their views, vacations, and interests. Everyone likes talking about themselves, and some insight will show you’ve done some research.
  • Follow up. It’s not enough to have a good conversation at an event. Follow up with a friendly email — and then follow up to that if you don’t hear back. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond, but don’t give up immediately, either.
  • Be prepared. Have some conversation starters/extenders ready. If you sense dead air approaching, it’s definitely helpful to have a few questions in your back pocket. Here are a few tried-and-true questions that will keep the conversation flowing:
    • If you weren’t working here, what would you be doing right now?
    • What was your first job? Did you like it?
    • What’s your favorite restaurant that other people don’t know about?
    • Do you have any upcoming vacation plans?
    • What’s your favorite vacation spot?
  • Set a goal. Decide ahead of the event how many new contacts you’d like to make or what types of connections would be most beneficial. Having a specific target in mind will help you stay focused and motivated throughout the event.
  • Focus on quality over quantity. Instead of rushing to collect as many business cards as possible, aim to have a few meaningful conversations. Strong connections are more valuable than numerous superficial ones.

Put these tips into practice at the Chamber’s upcoming Business After Business event at House of Blues Chicago at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14. Sign up today!