No matter what stage of your career you are in, it is always important to network. You never know where these connections may lead – in both your current position and future career. Follow these simple six steps to make the most of your next networking event.
1. Go to Events Step one in networking may seem a bit obvious but essential – go to events! If you are not at the event or joining the group, it is impossible to grow your network and expand your reach. Joining is easier than you think and goes beyond purely professional groups. Also consider community groups, philanthropic/volunteer groups and alumni associations.
2. Attend With a Purpose Once you’re at the event – attend with a purpose. Do research beforehand. It is important to show up knowing what you’re walking into. For instance, look up background information on the presenters, familiarize yourself with their name, title and professional background. This may help you break the ice later. Also, get a vibe for the networking event as a whole. What types of professionals will be attending? Is there anyone in particular you should make a point to meet?
3. Put Yourself Out There So you’re at the event, you know the overall gist of the event and the who’s-who of the main presenters, now meet the other attendees. Sit with folks you don’t know; after all, the purpose of these things is to expand your network and who you know. Have your business cards handy. A good tip is to write down a few topics you discussed on the back of the individual’s business card for when you reach out to them later. For instance, if you discussed hobbies or career paths, you can then reference these in an email later to jog the individual’s memory of you and your connection. Yes, we live in a virtually connected world, but business cards are critical to making those LinkedIn connections later.
4. Know Thyself! – But Listen Remember to prepare information about yourself. Practice a quick and to the point introduction – your elevator pitch – but also practice the art of listening. Engage with people. Once others feel you are listening to them, they are more likely to value your connection. Ask open ended questions. This will keep the conversation flowing.
5. Mix and Mingle Don’t spend too much time talking with just one person. Make the most of your time at the networking opportunity by bouncing around. Learn how to politely exit a conversation. You don’t want to cling to one person. Meet several people you can then follow up with and your network is sure to grow.
6. Follow Up Once the event has ended, it’s time to follow up. First and foremost reach out to the presenters of the event. Shoot them a LinkedIn direct message or email referencing their presentation and thanking them for their time. You don’t want to just add the person on LinkedIn – this can come off as insincere and lazy. Don’t forget to reach out to attendees you met at the event on LinkedIn. If you restate your interaction (using those brief notes you wrote on the back of his/her card) the person will be more likely to want to accept your social media connection. After all, he or she might not remember you. Staying connected goes far beyond adding someone on social media. For instance, invite them to go with you to lunch or an upcoming event you think they may be interested in.
Remember, the more prepared and willing you are, the more impactful your experience and the faster your network will grow.