Networking can boost your professional career to the next level and enhance your personal life. Whether you’re starting your own business, looking for a new job, or looking for key people for your company, networking can be your life support.
It does take time, requires good listening skills, patience and knowing your purpose in attending. For most of us, time is in short supply and we’re looking to maximize it. Without minimizing the value of networking, here are some tips to choose your events and use your time wisely. With a little preparation and deliberate approach, you’re ROI will increase exponentially.
Be selective. What do you hope to gain, learn, take away and share? You never know where idea sharing can lead. Is the sponsor, speaker, topic or audience of particular interest, professionally or personally? Consider the audience. The attendees may bring more value than the program itself.
If the topic sounds interesting but you’re not sure what to expect, spend some time researching the speaker and subject to ensure your interest.
Always ask yourself about the “purpose.” Is the subject matter suitable for my personal/professional pursuits?
Prior to the Event
- Sign up/Register
Commit early. Some events fill up quickly. You can always cancel if a conflict happens to occur. If the event closes or fills up before you register and it’s one that you don’t want to miss, contact the coordinator. They may make an exception. Depending on how much it means to you, consider offering your time as a volunteer to support the event.
- Who will be Attending
Some registration sites show the other attendees. This information offers an immediate advantage in preparing. You’re going there to network; identify those people that you want to meet. You are then one step ahead of the game. Google them! Facebook and LinkedIn can be great reference tools. LinkedIn profiles may give you insight into their career history, passions and connections. Their photo will make it easier for you to recognize them. It’s easier to build rapport when you know something about the person, especially when you share something in common. This should offer fodder for conversation and reason for meeting them.
- Who might you Invite
Who doesn’t appreciate being thought of and informed of interesting events? Recall who in your network may benefit by going. Be the initiator; invite your potential guests to join you. Post it on social media to spread the word. Mention the topic, speaker, date and place prior to the event – let them know you’re going. It’s the quickest and far reaching mode of communication than any other.
- Dress for Confidence & Success
What kind of impression do you want to make? Make a statement if that’s your style but most importantly, be yourself. If you’re well dressed, well groomed and wearing a friendly smile, it’s contagious. It’s easier to be confident and engage when you feel good and have a friendly disposition.
- Prepare a Question
If you’re spontaneous and outspoken, you may not have trouble coming up with questions on the spot. If you’re more of an introvert or analytical, prepare something ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with the speaker and topic. What genuinely interests you about them or the subject? What would you like to know? It’s an opportunity to make a good impression by showing interest, confidence and initiative.
During the Event
- The Conversation Waltz
A good exchange of conversation is like a dance; you can lead but give your partner enough space to speak. If you’re doing most of the talking, you’ll miss out on learning and taking away great information. Listening is a skill that many of us minimize or forget. At the end of the evening, you want to remember who you met and something about them that’s memorable.
- Share your Business Card Wisely
This is not about quantity but rather quality. Like a credit card, be selective with whom you share your business card. Exchange cards with those you make a good connection with. Put them on your calendar to follow up with them. Jot down a quick note about them directly on their business card as a reminder.
For those that prefer going “paperless”, ask to connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter and send them an invitation right there from you mobile device.
- Ask a Question
There’s typically time for Q & A following the presentation. If you’re comfortable and genuinely interested in the topic, participate by asking a thoughtful question. Participation is always encouraged as long as it’s relevant, done with respect for the speaker and audience. Asking good questions isn’t only polite, it shows your knowledge, appreciation and interest in them and their subject matter.
- Follow Up
While the people whom you met are still fresh in your mind, follow up by at least inviting them to connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message. A personalized message leaves a strong, more positive impression. You want them to remember you and that you enjoyed meeting them! For those that you connected particularly well with, invite them for coffee…continue your conversation and explore other areas of interest and how you may be able to benefit professionally from one another.