Business networking events are a natural part of life for budding entrepreneurs, founders, and pretty much anyone who wants to succeed in business. Yet, the thought of attending such an event may strike fear in the hearts of some of these folks while others relish the notion of meeting new people at networking events. Whether you can’t wait for the next business networking event and fill your calendar with opportunities to meet a roomful of new people, or you’d rather face a root canal than another networking event, you should know there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach these events if you want to succeed.
As a leader, you’re not always going to feel confident about the things you must do to achieve success 100% of the time, but when it comes to networking events you must face your challenges and walk into a room full of folks you may not know to build connections that support your business. Whether you’re planning to attend a business networking event to speak to an industry leader like the co-founder of ThirdLove, David Spector, or you plan on attending some lectures to learn critical aspects of the business to better manage your operation, or you want to seek out other attendees that might support your business, such as prospective customers, employees, and partners, you’re in a better position to succeed (and less fear) if you prepare adequately before you attend. It also helps to develop some coping skills to make these business networking events more productive and less scary. With that in mind, we put together a list of things that you could do to get yourself ready for a networking event regardless of the type of event or number of attendees.
Why business networking is important
Whether you’re an employee who wants to make a wider set of connections to advance your career or a would-be entrepreneur seeking to put together connections with customers and employees to support your business, or an established business looking to build stronger partnerships to help your business grow, business networking is an important element of your strategy. According to Forbes, these are the main benefits of business networking:
- networking provides fertile ground for the exchange of ideas. For instance, attending networking events where the speakers share stories about the struggles they encountered or innovative products they’re developing offer insights to help you better manage your business and adopt new opportunities represented by the products they develop. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways you can use ideas shared at networking events to grow your business.
- it’s great public exposure. Someone once said there’s no such thing as bad press and networking events often attract bloggers and reporters to cover the events. By attending, you have opportunities to meet these journalists who might write about you or your business.
- it provides new opportunities for collaboration. You might find business networking events offer a great place to find your next employee or a needed supply chain partner. Meeting in this informal setting allows you to assess the individual, their values, their expertise, personality, and other elements without the awkwardness and formality of an interview. A networking event also provides insights as to whether the partner or employee is a good fit.
- benchmarking is possible in a networking event. You can assess your skills and performance against others in your industry or related industries. This assessment allows you to create a plan to optimize your performance if you see others are doing significantly better than you. It also offers insights into what you should change to achieve the greatest impact.
- improves creativity. One thing businesses sometimes struggle with is out-of-the-box thinking yet, this type of creativity offers a lot of potential for your brand or career. For instance, if you learn of an attendee using social media in a different way to achieve higher performance, you might consider how to adapt this technique into your business strategy.
- networking provides access to unique information that can help guide your actions. For instance, if you learn about lobbying efforts under weigh, you might adapt your strategy so you’re not caught when these efforts change the rules and regulations that govern your industry.
- Gain support from others who might aid your business. You might meet an investor at one of these business networking events who will consider supplying the funding you need. The personal connection helps you stand out from others who offer similar investment opportunities.
- you develop long-lasting relationships by meeting the same folks at a series of networking events. These rich relationships allow you to learn about opportunities in your industry, build connections with potential buyers and gain valuable feedback about your operation.
How to succeed at business networking
Now that you have a good idea of why business networking is important, let’s discuss tips for making your business networking activities more successful.
1. Focus on quality connection
Some folks approach networking events as a challenge to see how many business cards they can disseminate. That’s the wrong way to go about building relationships, which is your goal. You don’t have to work the room, it’s always better to make at least one strong connection than 50 weak ones.
Seek to meet a few people and spend time getting to know them rather than introducing yourself to everyone. Ask questions, people love to talk about themselves and what they’re doing. Don’t get pushy by dominating the conversation and never try to sell something during an event.
Instead offer help and support to those you meet rather than asking for something. If you find there’s an opportunity, you can ask to meet for coffee or something at a later date to explore the opportunity.
2. Build a reputation
One way to build a reputation and expand your network is to offer yourself as a guest speaker for an upcoming event. Most hosts struggle to find good speakers to provide value to their events and need volunteers to help. If you’re flexible, tell the host you can pitch in whenever needed as sometimes a speaker must cancel at the last minute, leaving the host stranded.
If you build a reputation during interactions with other guests, you’ll find guests bringing you to meet other attendees who might need your expertise or passing on your information to others not in attendance. If you meet someone who asks for information you don’t have available, write a brief note on their business card to follow up with the requested information.
You can also build your reputation by volunteering at the event to raise your prominence. It’s also a great way to meet more people, especially if you help with checking them in.
3. Enhance connection opportunities
Most events use a name tag to identify attendees and aid connections. You might add your Twitter handle or a QR code to your badge so attendees can easily find out more about you and make connections outside of the event. Technology offers tools to make it easy to connect. For instance, rather than handing out cards that most attendees deposit in the trash during or after the event, consider a digital business card or another app to exchange information between phones. If you’re interested, check out these options from Next Web.
4. Network purposefully
Just because you’re at a networking event doesn’t mean you should shake the hand of everybody who walks your way. Of course, always be polite and introduce yourself to people who introduce themselves to you, but make sure that you have a list of people that you’d like to speak to before you get to the event. Many networking events provide a list of those registered for the event. Circle those you’d like to meet then memorize the names and faces (if possible) so you can maximize your opportunity to meet people who matter.
5. Make the most of your meetings
Small talk is not scary. Traditional networking advice always seems to mention how torturous small talk is. You don’t want mindless chatter, which is why we talked about building strong connections earlier. However, a level of small talk is quite important. It helps you to get a feel for somebody else and it’s not something that you can really shortcut. You don’t want to jump into people’s childhood trauma, so look for low pressure ways to get the ball rolling and are as easy as asking whether they have been to this event before. If you come to the event with a standard set of questions, you’ll quickly find yourself involved in fruitful conversations with attendees. Listenin is equally important, so demonstrate your interest with body language and asking follow-up questions.
Business networking is an important aspect of managing your career or business. Making the right connections at these events can boost your business or help you attain more from your career. With these 5 tips, you should find attending these events more rewarding and less stressful.
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