The value behind a networking event is pretty obvious, as is the awkwardness of walking into a room full of professionals you don’t know. Starting conversations with strangers can be daunting to even the most outgoing of people, but with practice, can lead to job opportunities, business connections and an avenue to build your reputation within a specific industry.
Network with Purpose
Depending on your location, you may have access to hundreds of networking events every week. That doesn’t mean you should attend them all. By understanding what you hope to gain, you’ll be able to choose networking events appropriately and increase your chances of getting what you want out of the experience. Whether it’s a job, professional connections, or industry expertise you’re after, knowing that and planning ahead of time is key.
Consider who you want to meet, why you’re attending and what you’d like to achieve beforehand to make the most of your time.
Don’t Overlook the Obvious
Though it may seem apparent to prepare an elevator pitch, dress professionally at a networking event and bring business cards, you’d be surprised how often these crucial steps are overlooked.
Your preparation should always include the following:
1. Develop a brief pitch that showcases what you do and the value you bring. Practice your proposition so that when someone asks, you’re ready to deliver.
2. Take into account the industry, event theme, location and weather when choosing attire. If you’re stuck, check out Facebook for photos from prior events.
3. Double check that your business cards are accurate and in your pocket or bag – the last thing you want is to scramble to write down your contact information or give out incorrect data.
Listen First, Then Speak
Ever heard of the “80-20” rule? People love to talk about themselves, so be the one to let them by listening 80% of the time and talking 20%. Show genuine interest and ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation moving.
Here are some examples:
*What are you most looking forward to at this event?
*How did you get started in (industry/job)?
*What do you like best about what you do?
Don’t Sell, Build Relationships
There is a big difference between networking and selling, and though your end game is to gain something, that shouldn’t be your lead in. Always consider how your counterpart can benefit from you and offer up help when appropriate. The goal, however, should always be quality over quantity. Just because you leave with 100 business cards doesn’t mean you made any genuine connections. Build rapport and extract valuable information from a few key people rather than spamming out your business card to everyone in the room.
It’s a rookie mistake to forget to follow up. You lose any momentum you have with new connections and reduce the likelihood of a sustainable relationship. Throughout the networking event, take notes after each conversation to stay organized. When appropriate, follow up with a thank you email or handwritten note and comment on something meaningful from the dialogue. Now is also the perfect time to add your new connections on LinkedIn.
Follow these simple steps and never feel unprepared for a networking event again!