Whether it’s a business convention, an industry happy hour, an association meeting, or anywhere two or more people congregate, make the best of every single networking event that comes your way. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Or where it will take you …
There is no reason to go into any event cold – there is just too much free information at your fingertips. Look up the history of the venue, look at the hosts’ LinkedIn profiles, look at the speaker’s YouTube videos, and try to find out who else is coming that you might want to meet or have a chance to talk to. Gathering information in advance gives you a way to strike up a conversation such as “I read your book, liked your article, saw your photograph,” etc. The information you look up should also include knowing exactly where you are going, how you are going to get there, and where to park if needed.
Spend a little quality time Googling your industry or the reason for the event as well. Who are the movers and the shakers? What problems need to be solved? What breakthroughs are happening? Where is all this happening?
You really should be doing this every week anyway if you want to succeed in your industry. Opportunities abound when you know what’s going on around you.
Make sure you have clean, crisp, ready-to-hand out business cards with you in an easily accessible location on your person. You don’t want to fumble for a card only to discover it’s bent or dirty or—horrors—outdated information. Nothing says, “I don’t want to do business with you” more than corrections made with a pen on a business card. Invest in this small token that represents YOU.
I have always told my kids and staff:
Early is on time.
On time is late.
Late is to lose out on opportunity (or be fired).
And, if it feels weird to you to get to an event early, sit off to the side and act like you are checking your email or messages. You’ll have a prime location to see who is showing up, what is happening, and stake out where you want to be in the event. And pay attention to what people are saying as they arrive. Listening is a worthwhile tool.
If you go to the same events and sit with the same people, what’s the point of attending a networking event? The very definition of networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Break out of your comfort zone, and meet new people, exchange new ideas. It is awkward and can feel scary at first, but the more you do it, the more you will enjoy it, and the more opportunities will come your way.
Bonus tip: sit with strangers towards the front of the room or near the action. Some pretty dynamic and well-connected people sit or stand close to the hustle and bustle.
This behavior is so simple yet so powerful. When you smile, you are approachable. When you smile, it makes it easier to walk up to strangers and be welcomed. Smile. It makes you look like you know something important.
This course of action is the number one thing people forget to do when they leave an event. It is such a great way to keep the conversation going and the opportunities flowing. Send “a nice to meet you” email or even better, a handwritten note with your business card (see above). If you talked about a particular thing, send a follow-up link to the information or an article. If you did promise to deliver something or do something, do it.
The bottom line is there are only so many clock cycles in a day. And if you are going to spend time (and money) to attend an event, make the best of it.
After all, it really does take a village to succeed!