We’ve all been there before: We show up to an event, trade business cards with a roomful of strangers, stay the obligatory hour, then leave. The next morning we send off a missive of vague emails telling these strangers how delightful it was to meet them and that we should do something, sometime in the future together. Then we forget they ever existed.
A week later, we repeat the whole thing again.
We call this networking, but in reality, it’s simply winging it, and we’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another. Entering a room on autopilot, tossing out business cards like they’re confetti, and going through the motions is not a strategy for success. It’s the type of behavior that makes people cringe at the thought of going to networking events, and for good reason.
As a businesswoman, time is a precious commodity; one you can’t afford to waste. If you’re going to set aside any time to go out and meet new people, why not make the most of it?
Follow these six tips, and you can trade your net-winging habits for networking skills once and for all.
Be Selective in Choosing Events to Attend
Before you start signing up for things, take the time to consider your goals. What types of people do you want to meet? What do you hope to learn? What other companies do you want to connect with? List it all out, and consult it as you research the various options.
Do Your Homework
Once you’ve found an event that matches your criteria, do your homework. Read up on the group or organization hosting the event, find out who’s speaking, research the event’s sponsors, and learn all you can. This information can typically be found online, through the event’s website. Some events even publish the guest list in advance; if you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on it, make a list of the top five people you’d like to meet, and prepare some talking points so you’re not caught off guard when you’re face-to-face.
Flesh Out Your Wish List
Remember that list you made of what you want to get out of networking events? Now that you have a specific one on your calendar, add more detail. Do you want to get a name of a new marketing agency? Meet two new potential clients? Or perhaps source a referral partner in your industry? By being strategic and developing an agenda in advance, you’ll be able to go into the event focused and prepared, and measure your success at the end.
Fashionably late entrances may work on the red carpet, but at networking events, punctuality is king. By arriving early, you can get the lay of the land while the room is relatively empty, and ease into the scene with a drink or snack before the crowd gathers. Plus, you’ll be able to connect with people before they start pairing off or forming groups that sometimes become impenetrable. You also may score an opportunity to get some quality time with the host, speaker, or sponsors without having to compete with the masses of other guests trying for the same thing.
Typically, the main goal of professional events is to meet a variety of people who you can further connect with later. Start by trying to find those five key guests you put on your wish list, but don’t be afraid to chat with other attendees, too. Remember, brief conversations can be meaningful — and that research you did ahead of time will help ensure that’s the case. At the end of the day, follow up and request one-on-ones with those who resonated with you the most.
You want your name to still be fresh in others’ minds when you follow up, so don’t wait too long. Send a personalized email within 72 hours of meeting someone, letting her know it was great to meet her. Be sure to mention where you met and what you spoke about as a reference point, and suggest reconnecting in-person or on a call. Phrase your request as a question rather than a statement to give the recipient something specific to respond to.
By following these six tips, you’ll make the most of your event time and build a strong network, rather than a stack of business cards with names of people you don’t remember.
Jenny Powers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.