Attending a professional networking event can be like going to a party at a stranger’s house. Here are some strategies to ensure that your next professional networking event is a success.
Plan Ahead: Before the event, make a list of the people you would like to meet. Organize some brief notes on what you know about a target contact that could be relevant to your discussion with that person. This type of information gives you an advantage not only because you can break the ice with a new contact more easily but also because the person will realize you sincerely want to meet.
Event Card: Turn your list of targets into an ‘event card’ that you can use to make notes about the people you meet and what you discuss. Do not take notes during a conversation, though. The other person may feel uncomfortable if he or she feels like you are conducting an interview.
Connect with Contacts: Rehearse your introductions and tailor them for each key person. Remember that there is a fine line between coming across as ‘all business’ and being seen as a real, approachable human being. You want conversations to flow naturally following your introduction. Just smile, be casual and talk to that person as you would if you were building a relationship with a new friend.
Follow Up: A day or two after the networking event review your event card and the business cards you have collected, and begin your follow-up. A brief email to say hello and remind a new contact about the conversation you had, or a request to connect via LinkedIn should suffice. Do not call a contact unless you were encouraged to do so, or you both hit it off so well you know a phone call would be welcome.
If you do not hear back from a contact after two attempts, more than likely that person is not interested in keeping in touch. Do not take it personally; not every connection you make is going to lead to a meaningful business connection. Focus your energy instead on those relationships you sense are going to be the most fruitful. If you approached the event strategically, you will no doubt have more than enough interesting new contacts to add to your professional network.