How to Prepare for a Networking Event

How many business networking events have you been to where you felt that the event was a waste of your time and energy? You met a few people, had some lacklustre conversations with people eager to sell you something, and left with some business cards which you didn’t follow up on? Have you ever ended up crying miserably into a glass of warm white wine? (That one’s just me?)

The best networkers begin before the event.

You’re not alone if you need some help with your networking, and don’t worry – this mini-guide will help you. Let’s start with preparation.
A lot of business networkers make the mistake of waiting until they’re ‘in the room’ to begin networking. The best networkers, though, know that the secret to world-class networking lies in the preparation.
The good news is that it’s not hard to prepare for a networking event, and the even better news is there are many things you only need to do once. With most of my clients, it takes about 20 minutes to do this for the first event:

12 ways to prepare for a networking event:

1. Write a quick list of the benefits of networking to you. I know that this sounds simple, but it will help you to become clear on why you’re spending your time and energy to network. It will give you energy and focus. If you’re stuck for ideas, see this post.
2. Get yourself in the right mindset. Think of networking as ‘socialising with a purpose’. You’re not going to the event to keep score or ‘win’. You’re there to have interesting conversations, share professional expertise and advice, and share opportunities. In this way, everyone benefits.
3. Decide your goals for the event you’re going to. The clearer you can be with your goals, the more energy and focus you’ll have at the event. It’s amazing how often people have no goal other than ‘being at the event’. Your physical presence in the room isn’t enough to qualify for ‘networking’!
4. Plan your follow-up now. According to The Harvard Business Review, 67% of contacts made at networking events aren’t followed up. One of the reasons, I think, is that most people wait until after a networking event to think about how to follow-up, but I strongly recommend planning it now. After the event, it’s so easy to put the business cards you’ve gathered in a pile ad think ‘I’ll get around to it soon’. But we’re all busy, and the cards get forgotten.
If you decide now how to follow-up, you’ll get it done. I book a small amount of time in my diary within 48 hours of an event to process any contacts I’ve made and to email anyone I’ve promised to follow-up with. I make sure that I connect with everyone on LinkedIn (I’ll write an article about connecting on LinkedIn later in this series.). If you know in advance how you’ll follow up, that also changes how you network at an event – you know whether you need to collect business cards, or ask for LinkedIn details etc.
5. Ask to see the guest list. Hosts are usually delighted to send guest lists out, or at least give you a good idea of the kind of people attending. Having the guest list in advance helps you to spot networking opportunities in advance, and to some extent to plan your time at the event.
6. Check the format/theme of the event. Don’t be one of those people who turn up just hoping for the best! Many events have a theme, topic of discussion, or purpose. Spending 10 minutes ‘revising’ online can make you one of the most informed people at the event.
7. Have a rough ‘elevator pitch’. I don’t think you need to learn a script, but you must be ready for the question ’So, what do you do?’. Practising a few ideas before the event helps boost your confidence, and you’ll come across as more credible to others. I’ll write an article on the elevator pitch as part of this series.
8. Social Media – look at any opportunities to connect with people online in advance. It helps your confidence to know that you’re part of a conversation even before you’ve walked into a room, and that you’ve already ‘met’ a few people. Try and find event hashtags, or the social media profiles of people who’ll be attending. Read some blogs, and check out LinkedIn and company pages.
9. Business cards – check that you have enough!
10. Pack two pens. I’m a little geeky about this, but I don’t trust my memory at networking events. I want to be able to write down any notes about someone, or any promises I’ve made (like sending them some information) ideally on the back of their business card. I take a nice ‘normal’ pen and I also take a fine-tipped Sharpie, which will write on anything. Sometimes, business cards have a gloss surface, and a Sharpie copes with those brilliantly.
If I’m the speaker at an event, I always take one of those see-through freezer bags that let you write the name of the food on them. I write the date and the event on the front and put all the business cards I’ve collected together. That way, when I’m following up, I don’t mix up different cards from different events.
11. Ignore number 10. Increasingly, we’re trusting our phones to do everything. Where appropriate, I’ve started taking a quick photo of people holding their business card. It means I can zoom in to get their details later, but is also a perfect way of remembering them. It also means that if I save the photo to something like Evernote, I can quickly type a reminder note alongside the photo.
You won’t be able to do this at every event, but I think we’re becoming less formal, and very quickly, and I’d be surprised if the digital collection of information isn’t completely normal very soon. So the preparation is – take your phone and make sure there’s some memory space for photos!
12. Be prepared with some interesting questions and topics to start or continue conversations. It’s quite easy to do this, just grab a newspaper or read an industry website on the day of your event, and you’ll find lots of ideas.
I hope that’s armed you with loads of ideas to get yourself ready for your next event. Is there anything I’ve missed, or anything you disagree with? Let me know in the comments.

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