8 ways to make the most of any networking event

Smiling people eat and drink at a networking event.

Are you heading off to a business networking event soon?  Want to make the most of your time there?  Then this article is for you.

Life as a business owner can be pretty hectic at times and often it feels as though there are never enough hours in the day.  It is important when you do spend time on a marketing activity such as networking, that you make the most of that time investment.  Here are eight ways to ensure you squeeze the most value out of your next networking event.

1. Set aside time before and after the event

It is tempting to always pack one more thing into your day to get a competitive edge.  Networking is not as effective if you leave no time to prepare prior to the event and to follow up after the event.  Make some time in your calendar either side of the event.  If the event is at night it might mean that the following morning you schedule your follow up time, likewise if the event is in the morning you may need to prepare the night before.

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2. Bring some business cards or samples of your product

Don’t believe what they say about business cards being dead!  Business cards provide a visual and tactile experience of your brand. They can help make a great first impression. Even if people don’t keep business cards they will get a physical reminder of you when they are putting the cards in the recycle bin!  If your product is something that needs to be seen or experienced like jewellery, edible products, photography etc. then bring some samples to help others understand your products or services.  It can be helpful to contact the organiser of the event the day before to check on numbers so you bring along an appropriate amount.

3. Arrive early to maximise your time

Consider being one of the first to arrive you actually get some great advantages. You have maximum networking time and it can be easier meeting a few people at a time rather than walking in to a crowded room that’s already in full swing. You also arrive in a calm state which provides a good first impression. As an extra bonus you’ll get first dibs on the food!

4. Listen to the news of the day to help with small talk

A challenge for many people at networking events is coming up with ideas for ‘small talk’ as conversation starters.  A good idea is to listen to the daily news so you have some topics of mutual interest up your sleeve.  Starting a conversation ‘did you hear on the news today…’ can break the ice. Other favoured topics can be sports and the weather (particularly if your networking event is in Melbourne!).

5. Set a goal for the event

Get serendipity on your side by having a clear goal for your attendance.  Do you have a business question that you’d like to get answered by the end of the night?  Or maybe you need a particular supplier such as a website designer or accountant that you would like to meet there.  It is amazing how when you are clear about what you are looking for, they show up. Most people set the goal of picking up new customers at networking events. Networking events are not sales events rather are relationship building and getting to know you events.  If your sole objective is to win new customers you may try too hard to sell your business or services and that can be a real turn off!

6. Get in a positive, friendly, happy mood

When meeting people for the first time you only have one chance to make a good impression.  The last thing others want to listen to at an evening networking event is someone who is negative or in a bad mood.  Whatever time your event is try and get yourself in a positive mood before you arrive. It might be as simple as listening to your favourite song list, having a conversation with a friend or treating yourself to a cup of coffee.  At the networking event maintain a friendly disposition and where possible (without being fake) try and keep the conversations more positive than negative.  There is plenty of time down the track, when you have built relationships with other business owners to have conversations where you share problems.  Consider the timing of your networking event to help get you in the right mood. If you are not a morning person then perhaps choose evening or lunchtime events.

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7. Follow up on any connections you make or actions you promise

To help people build trust in you it’s important to do what you say you are going to do.  If you promise anything on the night such as “I’ll call you for coffee, I’ll check out your website, I’ll send you a link to my website”, then do it! It’s amazing how often people say they are going to do things and don’t. You can quickly stand out as someone who is reliable by simply following through on what you promised. Allowing the time after event for this follow up is essential.  Offering to follow them on social media can be done instantly however there is value in postponing the action to allow another contact opportunity to let the person know you have done what you’d said you do.

8. Make quality connections

It can be tempting to meet as many people as possible at networking events in an attempt to get the most out of a networking night.  Some speed networking events even encourage it.  The problem is that when you are just spending one or two minutes with someone you don’t get to build quality connections.  It is the quality of the connection that leads to the benefits such as business referrals. The saying quality over quantity is true for networking. You are better off having met a few people, built a rapport and organised some follow up action.  Many people struggle to do that with two or three people.  Take the time to learn more about the people you are connecting with, ask questions, find common ground and learn more about their business.  Do more listening than talking.