Networking is about developing long-term, meaningful relationships between people who have a mutual ability and willingness to help each other over time. Networking is not schmoozing.
Meeting new people to expand your professional network can be daunting. If you are planning to attend a networking event, a little preparation will go a long way to help you get the best value from the experience.
Before the networking event
Get involved. Groups organizing events often rely on volunteers. Getting involved can be a good way to build a network by collaborating on a shared project.
Before attending a networking event, define your goal for the event. Do some background research and gather information on the following:
- Discussion topics: Identify areas of common interest—these are a good lead-in to a new conversation with fellow attendees
- Attendees: Target those you would like to meet, and look for warm referrals through existing contacts
- Speakers: Look for common ground. For example, if you went to the same university or share a love of soccer, you have a good conversation starter. Remember that speakers are often well respected and networked and they may have a wealth of contacts to help you out
During the networking event
The networking event allows you to meet new people and catch up with existing contacts. It can help you identify which contacts you want to invest more time in to build a relationship.
Effective networking requires that you always stay positive and enthusiastic. But most importantly, be yourself:
- Enter a conversation in a way that makes you comfortable. You might:
- Insert yourself into a group by stepping in politely and introducing yourself
- Seek out a group that includes someone you know, and get a warm introduction to the others
- Seek out someone else who is standing alone and start a one-on-one conversation
- Move around the room. Give yourself five to 10 minutes with an individual to decide if there might be opportunities to help each other
- If you’re starting a new conversation, open with a question. Take the time to listen to the answers and build on them. This will help you assess whether you have enough in common to invest in a relationship. If you have a specific “ask,” it may, or may not, make sense to bring it up during this initial conversation. Avoid getting into too much detail at the event. Instead, suggest that you follow up to have a deeper conversation
- When you’ve spent enough time, or if the conversation is not flowing, it is time to move on. Excuse yourself politely.
- If you’d like to talk more, politely ask for their business card and suggest that you connect on social media and have coffee sometime
- If you don’t think there’s a long-term synergy between you, simply thank them for a great conversation, tell them you enjoyed meeting them, and move on
After the networking event
Once you’ve attended a networking event and made connections, make sure you follow up.
- Add your new contacts to your contact list
- Using a personal message, invite new contacts to connect on LinkedIn or other social media
- If appropriate, suggest a time to follow up on your conversation
- Deliver on anything you may have promised your contacts (e.g., to connect them to someone or to send them a white paper)