Networking events come in all shapes and sizes. There are casual evenings with drinks and there are formal meals; breakfasts, lunches and dinners; art galleries, conference halls and cocktail bars. No matter what kind of networking event you’re going to, they can be incredibly useful opportunities for meeting new people and creating new relationships. The only problem is, because they’re full of new people, they can be daunting affairs and difficult to navigate if you don’t know what you’re doing.
With so many new people in the room, how do you know where to start? You only have so much time and want to use it wisely. The trick is to go into the event with a purpose in mind, knowing exactly who you want to meet and how you’re going to make that happen. By following our helpful tips, you can go to any networking event confident you’ll get the most out of it.
1. Plan who you want to meet
Before ever setting foot in the event, you should have a plan of action. There’s only a limited amount of time at networking events to meet and connect with people, so you need to make the most of the opportunity. This will make you much more effective at seeking out the best people to connect with. After all, you don’t want to get stuck talking to the wrong person, with your eyes wandering around the room trying to see if there’s someone that could be more useful. In fact, this behaviour will put other people off wanting to talk to you!
But how do you know who will be most useful to you without speaking to them? One way is to find out who’s attending the event in advance. This isn’t always possible, but some event organisers may allow you to see their guest list. They might not necessarily share it publicly, but there’s never any harm in phoning or emailing the organisers and asking. By doing this, you can build a mental shopping list of targets.
Alternatively, if you’re unable to see the guest list ahead of time, you can still plan out the type of people you want to meet. For example, do you want to find someone who does a similar job to you, or do you want to find someone that does something completely different, in order to help with an upcoming project?
2. Use your networking skills
Knowing WHO you want to meet and talk to is important, but equally (or arguably, more importantly) you need to know HOW to talk to them.
We’ve previously written posts about strategies you can employ to successfully network. These tips are designed to help you make the most of every conversation you get into at networking events and beyond. As a quick recap: you should be able to confidently and politely join a conversation and be able to build a connection and develop the relationship.
Being able to introduce yourself in an interesting and memorable way will set the tone of the rest of the conversation. Being aware of your body language, knowing when it’s most appropriate to swap business cards and being able to smoothly and politely exit a conversation will affect how they think about you in the future. These are all skills which take time and practice to master, but just having them in your mind will make you a much more effective and strategic networker.
3. Know what you want out of your conversations
Whenever you go to a networking event, go in with your end goal in mind. Following Steps 1 and 2, you should’ve already worked out who you want to talk to and how you’re going to do that, but this is all worthless if you haven’t decided what you want to get out of the conversation. If you’re on the lookout for potential new clients, you’ll treat the event differently than if you’re looking for new job opportunities.
By keeping this in mind as you talk to people, you can keep yourself focused. It’s surprisingly easy for conversations to meander, and although small talk is nice and chatting about hobbies can be enjoyable, remember that you’re there to achieve a specific goal.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. You might not be able to establish a real relationship from your first conversation, but you can set the groundwork to meet again, or connect online, to be able to continue building it over time.
4. Think about existing contacts
Anyone who has ever worked in sales will be able to tell you that a warm lead is much easier to work with than a cold call. Similarly, it’s much easier to start a conversation with a stranger when a mutual friend introduces you. If you know someone else going to the same networking event as you, ask them to introduce you to people.
You might be able to plan this in advance, asking them ahead of time if they’d introduce you to a particular person who's also going to the event. Alternatively, you could have a planning session, where you both think about who you want to meet and who the other one knows.
It could also be that you get to the event and you spontaneously see someone you know talking to someone you want to meet. This can be a good opportunity to say hello to your existing contact and meet the other person.
5. Remember to strengthen your existing relationships
It’s always tempting to spend the entire networking event meeting new people. After all, the whole point of these things is to have a chance to meet new people and build new contacts. While this is technically true, you shouldn’t neglect your existing relationships. If you met someone at the last event and haven’t spoken since, this is your chance to reconnect and strengthen that relationship further. It might also be that you’re there with people you already work with, but this is your first time speaking to each other outside the office. You can use the opportunity to develop those relationships too.
Additionally, remember that if you expect favours from other people, you should be willing to help them out too. For example, if you asked a friend to introduce you to one of their contacts, you can offer to return the favour.
Above all, keep in mind that great networkers know that it’s about giving and not just getting what you want. The people you want to meet are more likely to want to stay in touch with someone who is of value to them.