Molly goes to a networking event and meets Gerald. “So, Gerald, what do you do?” asks Molly. Gerald waits a second to respond. He has a million different ways he can answer this question and if the goal is to create a contact or lead, then there is absolutely a right way and a wrong way. But there’s more to networking than just how you interact with people conversationally. To get the most out of your next networking event, the work is done not just during the event, but before and after as well. Here are the 10 best ways you can get the most out of your next one.
1. Know Why You’re There Before You’re There
Why are you going to this event? It may be such an obvious first step that it’s hardly thought about, but it really does deserve some consideration. If you feel like a fish out of water the entire day, you’re not going to be on your A game, and that means less chance of any real connections. Also, it’s worth asking yourself if the event is actually going to be a valuable investment of your time. In general, you should be able to answer the following questions with relative ease:
- How does my job and company specifically relate to this event?
- What are my goals (make them specific)?
- Do the potential benefits of this event outweigh the cost of time being here?
- How long am I prepared to be here for?
Once you can answer these, it will become obvious whether this event is worth your time.
2. Do Your Research
Ok, so you’ve decided you’re attending. Now what? A little preparation goes a long way. It’s a great idea to make a rough outline of what your day will consist of. This includes which speakers you want to hear, which booths you want to check out, and who you might want to introduce yourself to. You can usually get a rough idea of who might be attending from social media. If there’s a Facebook event attached to it, you could find the attendee list there or from people tweeting about it via a common hashtag.
If you want to go the extra mile, have a question or two ready based on your research of the highlighted panelist. Asking your question in front of a crowd will leave a lasting impression in people’s minds as someone who is both knowledgeable about his/her field and bold enough to be centered out in a crowd.
3. Be Ready With Materials
Looking unprepared obviously gives off a bad impression and can lead to an awkward interaction, but it also affects your confidence and throws you off your game overall. Nobody wants that. So it’s important to come to your events prepared with any materials you might need. Business cards are a must, obviously, but don’t forget other palpable reminders of what you do: sell sheets, brochures, swag. Make sure everything has your contact information on it and that it’s going to stand out in the pile of endless marketing material that people will receive that day.
4. Dress to Impress (For the Crowd)
There’s an enormous difference between trying to impress 100 management-level executives and trying to impress 100 entry-level game developers. Dress to impress the crowd that you’re interacting with. A harsh reality of our world is that people do judge a book by its cover. That being said, you don’t want to be someone you’re not, as people can often sense if you’re being phony. As long as you don’t overdo it, you should be fine.
5. Prepare an Elevator Pitch
At these kinds of events you meet a lot of people in a short amount of time. You’re going to want to have a quick pitch ready of who you are and what you do. However, be careful when you say it that it doesn’t sound like you’ve been repeating yourself all day. Remind yourself that the other person is hearing this for the first time, so make it sound fresh. If you’re unsure of what your pitch should sound like, here are a few guideline steps you can follow:
For starters, it should be around 60 seconds. In that time you should go over who you are, what you do, and the hook.
- Step 1 – Start with the basics. This is who I am and this is what I do (in simplest terms). “Hi, I’m Gerald Smith and I’m a Marketing Rep with Biz Co.” You don’t need anything too flashy; you just need to get your foot in the door.
- Step 2 – Tell an interesting story that leads to the reason for you being there. “I’m excited to learn more about online marketing. This year we found our sales go up 5% just from tweets and keeping an eye on what’s trending.”
- Step 3 – Drop a casual call to action. This is important. “I figure if I can do learn a bit and make a few connections while I’m at it, it’s worth the trip. Speaking of which, let me give you my card.”
Of course, you want to make it your own and be comfortable with it. Once you figure it out, practice, practice, practice.
6. Let Other People Talk
Almost as important as having a pitch is the other side of things: asking questions and listening. What is a typical year like in their business? What has their year been like? How did ____ affect their business? Keep it topical and interesting, but not invasive. By asking and understanding their business, you may uncover needs that they didn’t even know they had.
7. Spice Up Your Small Talk
The only thing worse than being stuck in a boring conversation with someone, is realizing that you’re the one making it boring. If you say the same shtick over and over you’re going to start sounding like a dull, skipping record. Make sure you sprinkle a little fun into your conversations. Ask yourself from time to time if you’re really engaging with this person or just going through the motions.
8. Be Passionate & Care About What You Do
An easy way to spice up your small talk is to just be passionate about what you do. Talking to someone that is truly excited about their work–or excited to improve on their work—is at once captivating and contagious. When people hear the excitement in your voice, they will be more eager to share their story with you and value your feedback.
9. Don’t be Negative
It’s easy to be negative and start pointing out what’s wrong with the event, the people there, your job, your competitors. Don’t start down that road. Not only are negative people less charismatic, but they are also less interesting. You’re doing yourself 0 favors by being “that person”. Even if you have to force yourself a little bit, put a smile on and see how much further it gets you.
10. Follow up
The event may be over but there is still work to be done. The next day, gather up any business cards or contact information you’ve received and get typing. Email your contacts and be sure to include your LinkedIn profile so they can see who you are and remember you. By circling back with people you are giving yourself an advantage over the potential crowds that person met the day before.
We hope that some of these tips help you at your next networking event. Just remember, you’re spending the time to be there, so make it worth those lost hours. Although a bit of a chore sometimes, with the right preparation and attitude you can make those brief encounters into lasting impressions.