How to Make the Most of Networking Events
Anyone who is looking for information, ideas or contacts can get real benefits from attending networking events.
If you are planning a career change, they can be particularly useful.
What kind of events?
There are many different events you can use as a means of making new and useful contacts.
Some events are run specifically as networking opportunities. Big organisations such as BNI (Business Networking International) run events to bring people from different career areas together. You have to pay to join, but you may decide it is worth your while because of the contacts you may gain.
But don’t just think of those specifically labelled ‘networking events’. There are many more situations you can make use of.
- Training courses
- Staff meetings
- Away days
- Public lectures
- Recruitment events
- Social events
- Professional bodies – meetings, lectures, seminars
- Particular interest groups eg women, small business groups, particular professions
These groups may be more or less formal, but they can all present great opportunities for you to make new contacts and practise your business networking techniques.
Before you attend
A little preparation beforehand will make all the difference. Here are a few business networking techniques and ideas that will help:
- Think about what you want to get from attending and who you want to meet. This will help you identify which will be the best meetings to go to.
- Plan a 30 second introduction that presents you in a positive light. Imagine someone asking you ‘what brings you to this event?’
- Have a clear idea of what help or contacts you might be able to offer to others. Remember that networking is about giving as well as receiving.
- Have a selection of neutral opening questions ready to use to get conversation going.
- In addition to your brief introduction, prepare and ‘elevator pitch’ to use when people are genuinely interested in finding out more about what you do
- Make sure you have a supply of business cards to hand.
- Wear something that will help you be identified or remembered – without being outrageous!
- Prepare your mindset – especially if you find events like this a challenge. Determine to go with a positive frame of mind.
At the event
- Try to arrive on time rather than once the event is in full swing. You will find it easier to get chatting when the numbers are smaller.
- Get rid of bags and coat so you can move around freely.
- Put your name badge on the right hand side of your jacket – this is in the line of sight when you shake hands.
- Have your business cards ready in your pocket.
- The food and drinks area is often an easy place to start up your first conversation.
- Learn to feel comfortable just moving round the room and observing for a while before you decide who to talk to first.
Business networking techniques and tips
- Learn to read body language.
- Have an interesting opening statement.
- Smile and be positive and interested.
- Listen carefully to others.
- Connect and introduce others.
- Learn the art of small talk to get conversations going.
- Mix and mingle – don’t stick to one person.
- Don’t try to break into groups which are clearly deep in conversation.
- Don’t force your business card on others – only give it if it has been asked for.
After the event
- You will maximise the networking benefits you gain if you take stock after the event.
- Make notes about who you have met and what you have learned and add these to your Career Project File.
- Make sure you do any follow up you have promised eg sending someone a contact or some information.
- Write a networking letter to contacts you would like to meet again.
- Send and email or thank you letter to contacts you feel have been particularly helpful.
- Follow up any referrals that were made to you.
Keep an open mind about what events can be used for networking and always be ready to make the most of any networking opportunities, formal or informal, that you come across.
One of the key messages for you while you are looking to change careers is to be constantly alert to opportunities that might just give you the lead you are looking for.
So make sure that your career change strategies include doing some business networking. Techniques that I have explained here will help you make the most of any opportunities you find.