17 Jul 5 Powerful Ways to Make the Most of Networking Events
You already know that one of the Keys to Business Success is networking. But, before you run off to your next “networking event,” without an agenda, here are five ways to get the most out of the expenditure of your valuable time.
I’ve been a “professional networker” for most of my career, starting even before the ABL Organization’s first Southern California Technology Executives Network Round Tables were founded 35 years ago. So I was surprised to hear a young entrepreneur recently ask, “What other networking events should I be attending?” Given the range of “possibilities” her query stimulated from her well-meaning audience, I fear she could waste a lot a time attending many of them.
Yet, her question prompted these reflections on the best way to identify and mine the “networking opportunities” most likely to generate a sizable return on your valuable investment of time in attending them.
First, know your PURPOSE. Most senior business executives have enough “networking opportunities” they could fill up their calendar for every breakfast, lunch, coffee time, and happy hour. But why? The key in determining why to attend any event is “What’s in it for Me?” Will the subjects being discussed bring you greater understanding of a potentially valuable business opportunity or trend? Will the people you’ll meet there help propel your career or your business? Will it be more than just a place to collect business cards that will just go in “the stack”? Every networking event should be examined under the “WII-FM” microscope.
Think of QUESTIONS You Want Answered. Once you’ve identified a networking event that meets your Purpose – be it a seminar, conference, trade show, mixer, or regular Round Table of your executive peers, spend a few minutes jotting down the specific information and insights you’ll be looking to take away from it. Also, think about what you can contribute to the discussion, both as a thoughtful questioner, and as a responder to others’ questions. In our Healthcare and Technology Round Tables, we have Members who’ve literally been with us for decades, yet they’re distinguished because of the excellent questions they always bring to the discussion.
Identify the PEOPLE you want to meet. Most events list their speakers and panelists, some even publish the attendance list – or make it available if you ask for it ahead of time. Having a targeted list of people you want to meet – along with why they should want to meet you, can truly maximize your ROI for attending any event. Arrive early, so you’ll have more time than those who come later to meet your Targets. And, rather than pushing your card on them, ask for their card first, so you can make notes on it about whatever you promise to follow-up with that could be of value after the event.
Plan to GIVE more than get. Reputations are built based on the depth of useful knowledge in a subject you reflect, and how much you can help those with whom you interact one-on-one. Know that everyone at a networking event will be meeting a ton of people, collecting a pocketful of cards, and forgetting most of them the following day. You’ll stand out because of the way you made them feel, how positively you impressed them with your subject matter expertise, and your promise to follow-up with a valuable referral, report, article, or even information about your business. And that you actually sent it!
Keep your HANDS FREE. Unless it’s a sit-down meal, minimize how much you eat and drink. It’s really hard to shake hands, exchange business cards, and/or take notes if you’re balancing a drink and a plate of crudités – particularly messy ones. Remember, you didn’t go there to eat, but to meet people who can further your purpose, answer your questions, be impressed with how much value you provided in your exchanges, and be wowed by your follow-up.
So, the next time you’re tempted to sign up for a networking event, think through how it matches your purpose. Make the time to not only attend the event, but to prepare to make the most of it (with your list of questions you want answered and the people you want to meet), and to follow-up appropriately. If it’s a purpose-full match and you can make the most of it, the dividends will pay off handsomely.
by Mimi Grant, President, Adaptive Business Leaders (ABL) Organization – Round Tables and Events for CEOs of Technology and Healthcare Companies