Whether you’ve been in business for a year or for 20, no doubt you’ve been to a networking event or two. Interpro CEO Elie Asmar sat down recently with our new COO, Maren Amdal to talk about attending these events. Maren has worked with numerous professional organizations, and has produced and attended more than 250 such gatherings over the past decade.
Between the canapes and cocktails, here are some of her tried-and-true true tips for making the most of your next networking event:
Q: You’ve put on a lot of networking events over your career. What are some of the things you notice?
There are a lot of nerves! Many, many people come to networking events alone and nervous. To try to dispel the feeling of isolation, they stand with the one person they know or join a cluster of known friends/colleagues. The point is to mingle, to meet new people, so get out and do it!
I’ve seen some great relationships grow over the course of multiple events: People meet, reconnect, get to know one another and next thing you know, there are new jobs, new deals, and even families attending dinners at one another’s homes. People who meet at networking events often have a lot in common – what a great way to build your community!
Q: Some people find that networking events can be intimidating; What is your approach?
Think about what you are hoping to get out of the event. Whether you set the goal to walk out the door with at least 5 different business cards, or confirm just one commitment for a follow-up coffee meeting the next week, having an established goal for the event will help you approach people with confidence.
Q: Great idea! What are some potential goals?
Some goals might be:
Make 1 or 2 meaningful connections. Rather than speaking to 15 different people and not truly making that connection you were hoping for, speak to fewer people for a longer time. Sometimes it is more the quality of the connections you make is more important than the quantity.
5 business cards. Set a goal to receive 5 business cards. This will force you to approach at least 5 people, even if it makes you nervous. Once you reach your goal, you might have the confidence to pass that number – or you might give yourself permission to slip out the door. Nerves can be calmed by small, reachable goals that won’t feel overwhelming.
Q: Can you do anything to prepare for a networking event?
Think through talking points before you arrive. What types of questions might you want to ask someone, and what might you want them to know about you? Before you arrive, think about what you can offer people you meet, rather than only thinking about what you can gain from them. It is helpful to think through some points about yourself and your business so that you can easily talk to someone in a confident manner. If you’re nervous, practice with a friend or in front of a mirror! Networking is all about building relationships, and the best way to begin to establish relationships is to share and learn.
Think about what makes you nervous and in what situations you are most confident. Take that confident aspect and think about how you can bring the same energy with you to your event. This can help you prepare mentally for an interaction where you might be uncomfortable. What can you tell yourself before you walk up to someone to calm those nerves and come off as calm and collected?
Eat before you arrive. This might sound silly, but often these events are just after work and people are hungry. Those little hors devours are cute, but not always filling. Be sure you’ve had enough to eat so that you’re not famished when you arrive. Also, this should go without saying, don’t drink too much! It may seem a lot like a social mixer with friends, and sometimes it is, but networking events are first-and-foremost a business activity. I’ve seen good connections go south because of a little too much wine.
Q: What are your next steps after an event?
So you left the event and you feel great! You completed the goals you set out for yourself and made some meaningful connections. Here are a couple of steps to maintain that great energy and prevent names and conversations from becoming distant memories.
Follow through. It sounds simple, and it is: you should do what you say you will do. Keep your word. If you say that you will connect with someone on Linked-In, then do that. If you say you will come by their office someday next week, then do it! You will make the best impression if you keep your word.
Act Now. An important point is to act quickly, for example log-in to Linked-In when you return home after the event. Your ideas will be fresh and you will remember exactly what you talked about and who you want to reconnect with. Plus, who wouldn’t feel like they were important if they receive a connection request right after meeting you?
Follow up. You’ve heard it before: The fortune is in the follow up. Met someone last month, and connected on LinkedIn? Send a follow up message, share a news article relevant to your conversation or even a simple “hello.” People who follow up are the ones who build relationships. And that’s how you build a business.
The take aways:
- What can I offer? What do I hope to learn?
- What are my goals for the event?
- Follow up!