How to Make the Most Out of Networking Events
Contributed by Tracy Landu
You often hear that you should be networking to build relationships, increase your knowledge and create more opportunities for yourself, but have you ever asked yourself "how do I actually network?" If your answer is yes, then keep on reading as I share 14 tips on how to make the most out of networking events for those who are new to the world of professional networking or want to network more effectively in person.
Before we carry on, I want to make some things clear about networking.
1) Networking is essentially "interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts" (Oxford Dictionary). In the professional context, it is used to describe the creation of relationships that could lead to employment, partnerships and mentoring.
2) Networking can happen anywhere and with anyone, including online. It is not restricted to business people in suits who work in the city. Therefore, there is no step-by-step formula for networking.
However, it's important to continue to cultivate the skills needed to network effectively because, as they say, your network is your net-worth. But just as (if not more) importantly, to network is to invest in yourself. So, here are some ways you can make the most of networking events to do just that!
Before the event
1. Decide if this is the right event for you
Nowadays, there are so many networking events to attend and it can be hard to decide which ones are worth going to. Before you attend an event, ask yourself, "is this event going to get me closer to reaching my goals in some way?" or "Does it align with my values?" Be honest with yourself in deciding whether you are interested enough in the topics that will be discussed to make sure you're getting more bang for your buck. Afterall, there’s nothing worse than being bored and feeling like you have wasted your time and your money.
2. Keep an open mind
Once you have decided the event is for you and identified what you want to get from it, shake off your expectations. We are more receptive to learning new things when we keep an open mind. Allow yourself to be present and surprised by the events of the day without preconceived judgement.
3. Be prepared
A bit of preparation beforehand can go a long way! Remember, first impressions do count. Have your outfit prepared, business cards printed (if applicable), questions to ask, quickly update your website or contact details a couple days before if you need to, bring your notebook, pen, camera, chargers and whatever else you’ll need to record/take notes.
One thing you can also do is craft an elevator pitch which is a great way to prepare yourself for meeting new people and introducing yourself to them.
Also, don't forget to plan your route to the venue in advance to get the best seat and avoid being late!
4. Go alone
I'm an introvert by nature but I’ve found that one of the benefits of going to events alone has been the growth of my confidence. Engaging with strangers has forced me to come out of my comfort zone which in turn has made it easier each time to approach new people when meeting them. Going alone also means that you can truly pursue your interests without waiting on a friend or family member who perhaps isn't as keen as you are. You can look forward to socialising with like-minded individuals at the event and hopefully make a friend or two out of it.
During the event
5. Be yourself
For some of us, being around new people can make us nervous or anxious. At times when I’ve felt like this I ‘act as if’. I act as if I’m great at socialising and ride with that until it becomes true. You can also try to visualise how relaxed you are with your friends and channel that energy.
Tip: if you’re nervous to start a conversation, go up to pair and greet them. Smile, introduce yourself and ask an open-ended question. You’ll be surprised to know that there are people just as nervous. Breaking that initial barrier gives a snowball effect, making it easier to network with more people!
6. Keep it natural
Following on from 'being yourself', I think it's important to also keep things natural. I personally don’t believe you have you to force going around the room and speaking to everyone individually – obviously unless that’s your goal. As an ex-serial networker, I firmly believe in letting the conversation flow. I have heard from speakers that it can be off-putting when attendees go straight in asking for a job without any introduction first. Of course, this is all subjective and based on your personality but I recommend gauging where the conversation is going. If the time comes then, by all means, shoot your shot!
7. Respect others
You’ll soon find out that some of the people you meet will have different opinions and experiences to yours. Acknowledge this and try to give people the respect that you would like given to you when sharing your opinions.
8. Take notes
BE A SPONGE! Take in the people, your surroundings and most importantly what's being said. Take advantage of the advice from industry professionals and practitioners. They’ve gone before you, so their insights are bound to be very valuable and applicable. Make sure you write down or record important points so you can refer to them when it’s time to put the advice into practice.
Shall I tell you the major key to networking effectively? Be proactive. If you want to get anything out of any situation you have to actively participate. It's hard to miss out if you're getting involved as opposed to sitting in a corner. So, ask questions, partake in activities, icebreakers, take photos, engage in the social media hashtag conversation and so on. Don't be afraid to approach panellists, they're humans just like you. It makes the whole experience worthwhile.
10. Grab the free resources/goody bags
Who doesn’t love freebies?... I'll wait. All food, the resources and goody bags are there for you, so enjoy! You can always consume the products from your goody bags later on or perhaps gift them to someone.
11. Share contact details
Make it easy for people to contact you, should you both want to get in touch for future meetings and collaborations. Whether it be your social handles, website, email or number, share whichever medium is best to reach you on. A business card (paper or digital) is a professional and efficient way to do this (but it's not the end of the world if you don't have one).
12. Thank people for their time
Hosts and guest speakers take out their time to speak to you; a lot of the times for free. Acknowledge this by showing your gratitude for sharing their time and wisdom. Also, offering constructive feedback (usually done via paper or digital feedback forms) can help organisers improve for future events. Your appreciation goes a long way!
After the event
13. Create a ‘Contact List’
Create a database and categorise the people you have met by what they do. For example, list their names and details under 'Blogger', 'Photographer' or 'Entrepreneur'. This will make it easier to contact them in the future and you never know, someone that you know may need to connect with them.
14. Follow up
At best, I would recommend following up within 24-48 hours so they are likely to remember who you are. Remember to continue to keep in touch once in a while. Nurture those relationships into something meaningful to create a strong network for yourself.
Want to find networking events?
Check out websites such as Eventbrite, Meetup and of course, Adzvice. You can also search for example, "business networking events in London" on Google as well as following social media pages of brands/organisations whose events you would like to attend.
I hope these tips were helpful in sharing how you can make the most out of networking events. Do you have any advice that has helped you to build your network? If so, please do comment and share!