Get the Most from Networking: Prepare Before You Go

Article by Donna FeldmanOnce you’ve decided on a networking event to attend, what can you do to prepare for a positive and productive networking experience? Here are seven pre-event planning steps to help you feel more confident when you enter the room.

Pursue a Purpose

What are your reasons for choosing the specific event you are planning to attend? You will have more success if you attend with a purpose other than just “networking.” Perhaps your intention is to meet people with whom you can arrange one-on-one follow-up meetings. Or, you may be attending just to stay visible, to reconnect with business acquaintances, or to touch base with your social network and have fun. Knowing your purpose for going will help you get the results you want.

Create a Challenge – Go for a Goal!

Once you know your purpose, make a commitment to yourself for this event, such as:

  • Meet and talk with three new people
  • Introduce two people to each other
  • Meet the speaker
  • Make at least two really good contacts
  • Give two referrals

Solicit Support

If you’re nervous about going to a networking event, you might find a friend, colleague or business acquaintance to go with you or to meet you there. Better yet, find someone who is either a member of the group or has been to that particular event before and can introduce you to people.

When going with a friend, don’t use that person as a crutch. Make an agreement to introduce people to each other and to invite others into your conversations. Know that if you stay glued to your friend’s side all evening, others might not approach you, assuming that you are together and not open to meeting new people.

If you don’t know anyone at an event, you can seek out the host or organizer. Introduce yourself, tell them who you are interested in meeting, and ask if they will help you with some introductions to some of the members or attendees.

Be an Early Bird

It’s always a good plan to arrive early at an event. That way, the host, or people working the registration desk will have more time to talk with you and introduce you around. The event will be less crowded and it will be easier to meet and talk with people. Ideally, you will have pre-registered, so a printed nametag will be waiting for you, and you may have saved money as well.

Craft Your Conversations

You need to plan and prepare to talk to people! Although you want to be spontaneous, it helps to know in advance some things that you can say, either in response to common questions, or as a way to generate conversation yourself.

What will you say when you’re asked the inevitable question “What do you do?” Will you freeze up and suddenly find yourself unable to explain what it is you do every single day? You need to have a short prepared introduction that lets people know who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and who you want to meet.

Prepare to engage in small talk with some opening lines and get-to-know-you questions and answers. It’s easy to start with questions like:

  • What brought you to this event?
  • How does it compare to other events that you’ve been to?
  • I’m new here, what can you tell me about this group?
  • Hello, I don’t think we’ve met yet. I’m Cindy and you are?

Plan answers to questions like “How’s business?” and “What’s new?” You could talk about a great new resource you’ve found, a client you’ve helped, a win you’ve just had, or a challenge you are facing in your business.

Pack Your Networking Toolkit

What do you need to bring? Business cards, and lots of them! Donna recently attended an event where one person told her he had left his cards in his car, and another person said he was down to his last card. Don’t let this happen to you. Without your card, the people you meet have no way to contact you; they’re dependent upon you choosing to or remembering to contact them.

Bring a pen to make notes on the back of cards you receive, paper in case you want to jot down some ideas, your business name tag if you have one, your calendar, your self-introduction, some conversation starters, a few exit lines, and a positive attitude.

You’re On Your Way!

While you’re traveling to the event, put a smile on your face, engage in positive self-talk, and remind yourself of your purpose in going to the event and the commitment you made to yourself about it. Then when you arrive, you will walk into the room with an air of confidence and calm, and will get the most possible out of the event.

This article was co-authored by Donna Feldman and Cindy Rold. Donna and Cindy are The Networking Gurus.

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