We’re wrapping up our four-part series on networking this week! We’ve talked about the importance of business networking, the ways business networking can impact your revenue, and how to nail online networking events. So for this week we want to talk about how to get the most out of in-person networking events.
For most of us, we’ve spent almost two years meeting and networking at virtual events. Even though we’re all a little tired of the Brady Bunch squares of Zoom, the idea of getting back out there and networking in person can be a little terrifying. Here are our best networking tips to help you get the most out of in-person events.
Find the right event
Getting the most out of an in-person networking event starts with making sure you are at the right business networking event. Take time to research the networking opportunities and events that are coming up in your area and think about what will provide you with the best opportunities for your time. Does one have a guest speaker that you are excited to hear from? Is there an event that will give you the opportunity to meet with key industry leaders that could help open doors for your small business growth? Is there a trade show coming up that can get you in front of a new group of potential clients?
Think about the opportunities that are going to provide the most growth for you personally, or by extension, for your business. Prioritize events that will help you the most in these growth areas. You’ll experience more opportunities to engage and build connections authentically.
Have a goal or outcome in mind
We mentioned this in a recent article, but having a goal or outcome in mind is one of the best ways to get the most out of a professional event. It may not be the best use of your time to register for and attend a specific event, if you don’t know what you want to get out of it.
Having a mental goal can also help you challenge yourself to meet somebody new or deepen an existing connection. You may have a goal of connecting to three new people and getting their business cards to help expand your professional network. Your goal could even be to build confidence by practicing a new business pitch or elevator speech you’ve been working on.
Whatever your goal is, keep this at the forefront of your mind as you are networking. It could be something that relates to big career goals, or even something as simple as making a new member feel welcome. You can consider it a successful event if you’ve achieved the goal that you started with.
Get your business pitch ready
Speaking of elevator pitches, if it has been a while since you’ve networked, take some time to practice that pitch or elevator speech on your own. Can you clearly communicate what your business does and why in 60 seconds or less? Practicing your pitch with a trusted business partner can help you feel more confident if you get put on the spot or get an opportunity to share it with someone new.
Practicing also gives you the chance to feel it out and see if an existing pitch still rings true or feels authentic. Or maybe you are working on one or two different options for how you want to express the mission and vision of your business. Practicing them with others can help you feel out which version is going to feel most natural.
Having a strong elevator pitch ready makes it easier to interact with confidence, especially if it is your first time attending an in person event.
Refresh your questions
The hardest part about networking in industry events is that first moment when you start talking to somebody. After the expected questions of “Where do you work?”, “What do you do?”, and “How did you hear about this event?”, it can be difficult to know what to ask next to engage in a meaningful conversation. Think about some creative questions that you could ask anyone, but that could open the door to a deeper conversation:
- What do you love most about your work?/What keeps you doing what you do in this industry?
- What business goals/current projects are you working toward?
- What would you say is the biggest challenge facing our industry right now, and how do you think it should be addressed?
It can also be helpful to think about the kinds of questions you’d like to be asked. Consider how to turn those questions around and use them as a way to meet new people or engage acquaintances at networking events.
Verbalize your follow up
One of the most challenging things about any kind of professional networking event is how to make a graceful exit. This includes exiting conversations in general, and also leaving the event without making a big distraction. One way to achieve both, while also leaving a good impression, is to verbalize how you will follow up with someone.
Let’s say you are having a great conversation, but someone else you’ve been meaning to connect with enters the room. How do you end the current conversation without being abrupt, while also leaving room to continue connecting with the person you are engaging with. It is an awkward position to be in, but you can make your exit feel natural by saying something like, “It’s been so great to connect with you today. I would love to chat more about XYZ. I’ll send you an email tomorrow to find a good time for both of us to catch up.”
Or let’s say the event is running long and you’ve got early meetings in the morning. You can say something like, “I hate to cut this short, but I have another commitment to get to. This has been such a great event and I hope to see you at the next one. I’ll forward the event invitation to you!”
In both cases, you verbalized your commitment to follow up and left the conversation on a good note. And because you verbalized the action you would take, that gives you a little extra pressure to follow through and ensure that you make time the next day to send that email or make a personal call to someone you’d like to connect with again.
Following through on your verbal commitments to cement new relationships or strengthen existing ones is a great way to get the most out of a networking event. After all, you are there to widen your circle of business connections, but building relationships takes time. The best way to do that is to follow up and take those relationships outside of the public networking space. And don’t forget to drop a little thank you note to the event organizers!
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For quick answers about getting the most out of in-person networking events, check out our frequently asked questions below.
What is a business networking event?
A business networking event is an opportunity for professionals and business owners within the same industry to network, make connections, and become more engaged in their business community.
What are the benefits of business networking events?
You’ll meet like-minded people working in your industry. You’ll get exposed to new ideas, speakers, and other resources that can support your business management. You may meet a potential client or even a future partner for your small business. You may learn about job opportunities, industry events, or other future opportunities that relate to your line of work. You’ll also get a chance to practice your networking skills.
How do I get the most out of business networking events?
Make sure you are going to events that will be most impactful to you as a business owner. Have a goal or two in mind of what you’d like to get out of the event. When you make a genuine connection with someone, follow up with them and focus on building strong relationships with them in a meaningful and personal way.
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