Last year, I represented our company at a local business event. We set up a table, handed out brochures, and I answered questions. The event lasted the better part of an afternoon with speakers presenting throughout the day. I was looking forward to seeing a scheduled presentation on networking — a passion of mine. The networking presenter spent nearly an hour lecturing, going into great detail. He offered some helpful advice, but much of what he shared was just too complicated to be practical for most. And an hour of lecturing without interaction, questions to the audience, or any other participation was painful for me. That said, the glaring mistake the presenter made was — he didn’t network. It would’ve been easy to walk the room, booth to booth, before the show or after the show — but he didn’t. The only person he met with before the presentation was the promoter, and he left immediately after his presentation. It didn’t add credibility to his networking presentation.
I’ve been privileged to present all over the state, and regardless of my subject matter, I always network before and after my presentation. I’ve made professional connections, learned what the audience’s expectations were, and I count a few friends among those I’ve met this way. Whether I’m presenting at or attending an event, I’ve learned it’s more productive to have a plan.
What’s Important to You?
• Ask yourself — why am I here, and what do I hope to take away from the event? By putting thought into this, you can maximize your networking opportunities, rather than wandering aimlessly, chatting with the nearest person for 30 minutes or standing in a corner like a wallflower.
• If a guest list is available, plan on meeting those you can help, and those who can help you. Is there someone on the list you’d like to meet? Which attendees have connections to industries or people you’d like to be introduced to?
• Arrive early; it’s an easier and more relaxed time to visit with other attendees. I’ve met speakers and organizers who may have been too busy to chat with me later on. I’ve also volunteered by placing flyers on tables and helping with setup… all of which put me in a position to meet key people.
• Know what you’re going to say to whom. Keep in mind — good conversationalists listen more than talk. Ask questions, such as what others hope to gain by attending the event, and most will reciprocate.
If you prepare for networking events with a plan, you’ll get a lot more out of it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But let me ask you, how many events have you attended without any plan? How often have you spent most of your time visiting with friends and co-workers? Have you caught yourself saying, “I wish I’d met so and so!” If this sounds familiar, take a few minutes, make a plan, decide what you hope to gain and who you want to meet. Keep it simple.
Is networking difficult for you, or does it come naturally? What networking strategies have you learned?