We are all guilty of going to a networking event to connect and bond, but just eating and leaving when we get there. The phrase “build your network” sounds pretty easy coming from the lips of personal branding coaches, but networking can feel daunting in real-time. Networking at events is more than showing up, eating free meals, and exchanging contacts. It requires intentionality, you need to establish a connection with people that lets them know who you are and what you do. Networking events create the perfect avenue to establish this connection. Here’s how to make the most of the next one you attend.
Tips for Before you Leave for a Networking Event
1. Set goals
What is your purpose for attending the event? What do you aim to achieve when you get there? You may be looking to get a job, sell your product, generate leads, or seek mentorship. Whatever it is, make sure to set clear specific goals on what you want to achieve, asides from having a good time. Setting goals will help you stay focused.
You should also come up with an action plan on how you can achieve that. A sales rep whose goal is to generate 10 new leads, for example, will need to talk to at least 25 new people. His action plan may include talking to a different person every 10 minutes, depending on the timeframe of the event.
2. Have your pitch ready
The most important thing you should be prepared for at a networking event is to sell yourself effectively. You need to prepare a clear and concise pitch of yourself, telling prospective members of your network who you are and what you do. The pitch should be three to five minutes long, and compelling enough to spark interest and ignite curiosity.
You may need to make minor changes to the pitch for each new person you meet, but the keywords and phrases will remain the same. Preparing your pitch in advance will help you approach each new conversation with confidence, as opposed to making one up on the spot.
3. Declutter your social media profiles
Your new connections are most likely going to look you up on the internet after meeting you. Your social media pages are going to be their first call. Therefore, you should declutter your social media profiles and ensure that anything that could compromise your success with the prospect is trimmed off. Controversial posts and overly personal information should be the first things you get rid of. You should also sweep off embarrassing photos and compromising videos. The goal when using social media for networking is to ensure that your content radiates positivity and showcases what you do efficiently.
4. Optimize your online presence
For ease of accessibility and to promote cohesiveness, your online networking accounts should bear your official name, or pen name as the case may be. If you are on LinkedIn as Sarah Brownthesparkleswriter, for example, your blog site, Twitter handle and Instagram account should reflect the same name. Maintaining a keyword across all social media handles is also a great way to optimize your online presence. For Sarah Brown, this keyword may be “Sparkles”
When you are Michael Frank on LinkedIn, yourneighbourhoodcrush on Instagram, and thehotboy on Twitter, it leaves prospects confused about what you truly do, and makes it difficult for them to find you online.
You can also optimize your online presence by dropping updates on your latest accomplishments, attained goals, volunteer work, and so on. These go a long way to portray a valuable persona of you to prospects who run a digital background check on you.
5. Check out the speaker list and dig deep
For most networking events (like TedX events) personalities who have made a positive impact on society are often invited to share some words of wisdom. The day before the event, take out time to research the big names scheduled to speak at the event and take notes of common areas of interest that you can use to start up a conversation with them after the event.
You can take this note along with you to the event, and add things to it from their sessions. Starting a conversation with a mention of common interest is a good ice breaker.
6. Have a link.tree and a business card ready
Before going to a networking event, you should always have your business cards printed and ready to distribute. Handing out a card takes less time than dictating your phone number to the prospect after a wonderful conversation. It is also a better option because it reminds the prospect of what you do every time he looks at the card.
A link.tree is another essential accessory to prepare beforehand for a networking event. You make it easier for a prospect to find you online and get access to your portfolio when you send them a link.tree. A link.tree is a channel that holds all the links to your relevant social media account.
7. Dress to impress.
First impression matters, and before people get to hear you talk, they see you and make assumptions about your personality from the way you are dressed. You should show up at the networking event in a neat outfit and smell nice. Depending on the theme of the event, polo and jeans may portray you as lousy – wear something a little more high-end instead.
When you dress to impress at a networking event, you not only make yourself appear as an asset but also give your mind a boost of confidence. It’s easy to feel good when you look good.
Pro Tip: Be careful not to be too extra with this one – you should still be comfortable in whatever great outfit you wear. Pointed heels that lift you sky high, and a turtle neck underneath a suit under the blazing sun, are unnecessary finesse.
8. Grab a purse.
Holding your phone in your hand at a networking event could get in the way of handshakes. At a crowded event, you also stand a chance of losing it should there be an unexpected collision. When you carry a purse with you, your phone can be safely nestled inside it as you navigate through the event. Carrying a purse along also gives you a storage bin for all the business cards you receive and take along to give out.
Tips for During the Networking Event
1. Make an appealing first impression each time
Each time you meet someone new at a networking event, deliver your pitch beautifully and leave a long-lasting first impression. Here are a few tips:
- Go in for a handshake while you introduce yourself simultaneously.
- Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, even when you laugh.
- Give the person a genuine compliment.
- Smile – it’s the perfect ice breaker, and it’s contagious too.
2. Be an active listener
The secret to turning a new acquaintance into a connection is to listen. When you lead the conversation by talking about yourself, you risk coming across as obnoxious and annoying. Lead by asking questions instead, and offering the other person room to talk more often. You can do this by sharing a relatable story that can provoke them to share their opinion. Engaging conversations are often held by sharing stories that naturally feed into each other.
As your conversation goes on, pay attention to details. Remember their name and use it the next time you refer to them. Did they mention having a dog called Rex? Take note of that and ask how they balance working and taking care of Rex when there is an opening to do so. You would establish connections with people easily when they feel like you are more interested in them as a person than as a potential client or paying customer.
Pro Tip: Don’t jump straight into advertising your product or service on your first interaction. The temptation may be strong after a wonderful conversation but resist it. You can do that by the next interaction.
3. Turn off notifications on your phone
Loud pings and noisy ringtones can be terrible interceptors when having a conversation. It can come across as annoying to a prospect when you keep saying, “I’m sorry, I need to take this call”. They can quickly lose interest in the conversation. The best way to avoid this is to turn off notifications so that you are only alerted of messages and calls via vibrations.
4. Show interest in the other party
You may plan your questions before you attend the event or let the conversation flow, but try to ask a prospect questions to show interest in them. This tip goes hand-in-hand with active listening. Showing genuine interest in the person’s life goals and career opportunities will help them see you as a connection and not just a job seeker. Showing interest in a person’s work also provides a soft landing if you are planning to request mentorship or internship opportunities.
5. Take notes of important details
A networking event will expose you to more people than you can effectively remember their names or career paths. Taking notes will help you keep a record. The subject of your conservation with prospects, their names, and career paths will come in handy when drafting your follow-up email.
The goal of attending a networking event is to connect with valuable people who will be helpful in the future – remembering who they are and how they can help is key. Speakers at networking events also share life hacks that you will be glad to see in your notes much later.
6. Exchange contact information with prospects
Do you know it is possible to attend a networking event and not share your contact information? You could get carried away with having a good time. When you connect with people at a networking event, do not only give them your contact details but take theirs as well. What’s the guarantee that they would remember to call you? When you take their business card as well, you can make the call on your terms.
Tips for After the Event
1. Keep the connection alive
It is easy to forget about a new friend you made at a networking event when you do not have any immediate collaboration with them, and only remember them when you need them. However, people are only willing to help those that they know. Keep the relationship alive by getting on a call with them soon after you return from the event. You may also send follow-up e-mails, just make sure to personalize each one. Feel free to request a one-on-one meeting at a later date to discuss collaborations.
Pro Tip: Even simple things such as commenting on their social media posts help to keep the relationship alive. Don’t forget to send your connections seasonal greetings and good wishes as the opportunity arises.
Networking is one of the most powerful job-seeking tools. When you attend offline and online networking events, actively participate and contribute to conversations. Every event presents an opportunity to network, just be sure to leverage opportunities to sell yourself as they arise. I hope these tips helped!