Networking. Many find it challenging.
However, there are countless articles, guides, and research that espouse its value. And we all know that having a great network will make it easier to get a job, hire talented people and get advice on solving business problems.
But, how do you build a great network? How do you do it efficiently and effectively? One evening at a sponsored cocktail party, unprepared, can be disheartening. Don't despair. Networking is a skill that can be developed. With a bit of practice and a few pointers, anyone can become a networking ace.
Here are my expert tips for navigating the complex social fabric of business networking events.
Seek Out High-Quality Events
Paid events attract more engaged attendees. I recommend avoiding free events. They appeal to people who may be less interested in serious business networking and more interested in free food, drinks, or because it's simply something to do.
But, you don't have to break the bank and start attending expensive events. There are a lot of high-quality events in the $25 to $100 dollar range. And most employers will let you expense the ticket. Large conferences usually offer an expo pass in that price range, that will let you roam the trade show floor. I also recommend focusing on events with a topic that's relevant to your industry. It's less likely that you will make a valuable connection at a general business networking event.
Come Prepared and Have a Plan
Have a goal in mind and practice your pitch in advance. Otherwise, you will waste valuable time engaging in polite small talk with people who can't help you. Here is a straightforward example, "I am interested in networking with companies that currently have an opening in event marketing." Or if you want to be more subtle, "I am in marketing and want to network with other marketing professionals." When you state your goal up front in the conversation, you may be surprised how quickly people will help you. If they are not in your target, almost everyone will offer to introduce you to someone they know that meets your criteria.
In order to close the conversation many people still like to hand out business cards. I think that's inefficient. When I meet someone I want to connect with, I use my mobile phone to send them an email from my account or connect on LinkedIn in the moment. Then I can follow up with them the next day and meet up for a coffee or set up a call.
Get There Early and Talk to Lots of People
The people who arrive early are motivated to network. Also, it will be easier to strike up a conversation with the first few people who arrive, since they won't be engaged in a conversation already. Chat for only five to ten minutes and then move on. Get their email or card and offer to follow up over email and continue the conversation. Remember, this is work and you have a goal, building your network.
I also recommend that people attend networking events on their own. It will force you to talk with new people. Even if you're a power networker, having a friend will distract you from making connections with new people. If you do go with colleagues, make a plan to split up. Circulate around the room and then synch halfway through the event to compare notes.
Be Positive and Keep an Open Mind
Sometimes, things just won't go your way. It happens. When I just can't seem to meet the type of people that I want to connect with, I leave right away. It's a sign that the event is just not the right one for you. Do not let this get you down. Expanding your network means trying new things. Sometimes those experiments don't work. This is to be expected.
Stay positive and keep looking for events that are a good fit. Once you find a meetup, event series or conference that works, get involved. You can volunteer, sponsor or even pitch yourself as a speaker. Most event organizers are looking for enthusiastic supporters to help.
Good luck networking.
President and Co-Founder, Uncharted Minds
Networking. Many find it challenging.