When you think about a networking event, what do you envision? Perhaps a crowd milling around a hotel banquet room with cocktails in one hand and business cards in the other? In fact, there are many types of networking events, ranging from breakfast meetings with a dozen people, to speaker luncheons with 100 attendees, to black tie dinners with more than 1,000. Each can be a valuable experience if you make the most of the opportunity.
Attending events is only an effective use of your time and money if you do so with a plan. Ask yourself: What do I hope to gain from attending? It may be to learn from the speaker, meet prospective customers, increase your visibility or network with your peers. The key is to think about your goals ahead of time, as the more tangible your plan is, the more likely you are to see results.
If you are not sure why you are going to an event or if your heart just isn’t in it, your time is better spent elsewhere. Many people show up to events late, sit by themselves, speak only to people they know, and then sneak out early. These people go home thinking, “Well, that event was a waste of time,” when actually it was a wasted opportunity.
There are several strategies you can use to ensure success in attending an event:
1. Research the event or host prior to attending. You want to appear knowledgeable at an event, and the Internet makes this easy. This information will make it easier for you to engage in conversation, so take a few moments to become familiar with the host organization, the guest speaker and topic, or the criteria for an awards program.
2. Attend with a colleague. Perhaps the biggest advantage in attending with someone is that you will not be on your own. They can give you a landing point if you find yourself wandering the room alone or in between conversations. You can also meet the people your colleague knows at the event.
3. Invite key influencers to attend with you. Events are an easy way to utilize your inherent multi-tasking skills. When you make plans to attend an event, ask yourself which of your customers, prospects, vendors or employees might be interested in attending as well. This can be an extraordinarily good use of your time – not only will you be spending time networking, you’ll also be spending time with someone important to your business.
4. Arrive early for the best networking. There is no question that the best networking is at the beginning of an event – regardless of whether the event is in the morning, at lunch or in the evening. Attendees will be in a rush to get to the office or go home as soon as the event is over so if you are hoping to connect with someone, do it first thing.
5. Spend your time both initiating new relationships and building existing ones. It is easy to arrive at an event, see a friend or colleague, and spend your time catching up with them. But you must also commit to meeting new people and initiating new relationships. Aim to meet three to five new people at each event. If you keep this goal in mind, you will be conscious of the time you spend talking with any one person.
6. Use strategic seating. When events feature a speaker or program, keep in mind that your networking does not have to stop when you take your seat. Try not to sit with someone you already know, instead join someone you haven’t met. There will probably be a few minutes to chat with your tablemates prior to the start of the program. Be sure to introduce yourself to everyone as you take your seat and pass along your business card prior to departing.
7. Follow up within three days of an event. Follow up is the most neglected aspect of networking, even though it is also the most important. We’ve all met someone at an event, had a good conversation and made a connection, exchanged business cards, meant to schedule a follow-up meeting or send them information and somehow it slipped though the cracks. Prompt follow up can make or break a new relationship. Make it a priority and a habit.
Written originally for w2wlink.com by Marny Lifshen. Marny can be reached at www.marnylifshen.com.
is an independent marketing communications and PR consultant, as well as a speaker and author. She provides comprehensive strategy, management, implementation and evaluation of marketing communications and public relations initiatives to wide variety of clients. Marny is the author of Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women, the business category winner for the 2009 Eric Hoffer Awards for Independent Books, released by New Year Publishing in August of 2008. An experienced speaker, she has been speaking specifically to women's organizations for more than ten years, including Women in Technology International, Women in Communications and the Young Women's Alliance. Marny can be reached at www.marnylifshen.com.