We all know that networking is an important part of being part of the working world; however, it may not always be easy to give this activity the attention it deserves. 41% of professionals say that they would like to network more, but they simply do not have the time to do so. If you’re anything like them, you need to make sure that the time that you do spend at events counts for something. Believe it or not, the right actions and attitudes can have a big impact on networking outcomes.
Don’t Leave Your Networking to Chance
Leaving every event with a few valuable contacts is a highly attainable goal that no professional should feel is beyond them. All it takes is the right choices. In general, there are four specific things you should be doing at all networking events you attend if you want to maximize the benefits you get from them.
The first thing you should do when getting ready to go to any networking events is to take care of the logistical aspects right away. Take the time to put together an outfit that is presentable and professional, but also suits the tone of the event you’re going to – don’t choose a suit for a casual lunch event with a laid-back technology company, for example. Make sure you have a pen and paper on you somewhere, even if it’s just a pocket notepad. Grab a cup of coffee beforehand if you’re feeling a little low on energy. Clear your schedule enough to give you a bit of time both before and after the event; this will give you a little leeway for unexpected travel issues or make it possible for you to stay a little late if things go particularly well and you’d like a little more time to chat. All of these things will ensure that you have a smooth experience that sets the stage for you to do your best and truly shine at the event.
Preparation doesn’t end with these tangible considerations, though. Another critical thing you should do before going into networking events is to focus on keeping an open mind. Don’t go in thinking that you’ll spend the entire time being bored, or that’s exactly what will happen. You want to enter this situation eager to meet new people and experience new things, and you should be ready to go out of your way to make that happen. Even if you are normally a shy or reserved person, get yourself psychologically ready to mix and mingle. Networking events are never productive when you spend the whole time sitting in a corner alone; in fact, research shows that mindset alone can make a significance difference to your level of networking – and by extension, career – success.
Go In With a Goal
Creating a business plan before a new entrepreneurial venture doubles your odds of success, and the same principle can be applied to networking events. Effective networking requires you to have a goal in mind. Obviously, almost everyone wants to ‘meet people’ at networking events, but if you narrow things down a little further, you’ll have better luck achieving tangible results like higher revenue, sustained contracts or a greater number of leads.
So how do you know what goals to chase? Naturally, we’re big believers in the idea that your contact data can tell you a lot about how to improve your business relationships. By examining it with a critical eye, you can identify the weak points in your current network and figure out how to bolster those areas before they start to impede your business progress.
Before you go to any networking events, look over your contact database and see what particular things it is lacking. Are there a lot of sparse entries that won’t do very much to help you later on? Try to focus on making a strong connection with a handful of other attendees and collecting lots of detailed data on them to serve as a fresh starting point. Are there a lot of out-of-date entries for contacts with whom you used to enjoy a fruitful business relationship? If you see any of them at the event, approach them and ask them if they might be willing to give you their updated contact information – you may be able to rekindle things between the two of you. Is there just a general lack of usable entries? It’s time for the scattershot approach; just gather as much contact data as you can and worry about enhancing them later during your follow-up activities. Any of these strategies can produce great results, but only if you make sure that they are suitable to your unique situation.
Collect Your Cards
Networking will only do you any good if you have the contact data necessary to get in touch with your new leads later, so be sure to pick up as many business cards as you can while you’re around – never leave a conversation, however brief, without getting one from the person you spoke to.
However, remember that while business cards will provide you with the most essential information about each contact, they are by nature very sparse on details. To supplement these tidbits of information, it might be a good idea to take notes. Write down whatever extra information you come across about these contacts so you can add it to your records later; you can do it on the backs of the cards for the most part, but don’t be afraid to switch to your notebook if you run out of room. Be sure to include a point or two on the conversation you were having with each person instead of focusing exclusively on their personal contact information and details. This will help you to craft thoughtful, personalized follow-up messages when the event is over, a step which is critical to solidifying new business relationships.
Once you’ve annotated your cards, where do you put them? It’s tempting to just cram them into your wallet or pocket and get on with experiencing the event in front of you. Don’t give in to that impulse. Business cards may be the standard method of contact data exchange at networking events, but they’re easy to damage or lose entirely; they should be treated with care. Consider using a small cardholder or even a binder if you don’t find it too cumbersome. If you carry a handbag, it may help to keep the cards separate from the rest of what you’re carrying with a small plastic sandwich bag. The idea is to keep the cards as safe as possible until they can be digitized. All your new contact information should be entered into your database as soon as possible after you leave. Alternatively, you could also digitize them immediately with the right tools; even if you go this route, though, you should still be as kind as possible to your cards. They take up so little space in the grand scheme of things that it makes sense to keep the physical copies around as backups somewhere in your office, at least for a little while.
It might sound counter-intuitive considering that networking events are by definition business gatherings, but one of your main goals at any networking event should be to just have fun. When you’re enjoying yourself, you give other people permission to do so as well, and that’s when you really start to bond. Stay relaxed and follow the conversation if it starts to drift away from purely business-related talk; some of the most valuable connections at these kinds of events happen over shared interests and spontaneous exchanges. Having your new contacts get to know you as a person prior to making any overt moves to tap into their influence or budget makes the whole thing feel less like a transaction and more like the enjoyable interpersonal exchange it should be. That’s why simple board games are one of the more popular networking activities on Wall Street right now.
This may feel like you’re missing an opportunity to get to the heart of the matter, but there’s actually a lot of evidence that simple pro-social behavior like this can do you a lot of good in business. Take, for instance, the reciprocity principle: a heavily researched psychological concept that claims that humans are generally eager to give back to those who are generous to them. Even something as simple as lending someone a book or offering to go over some paperwork for them can often go a long way toward making a sale or securing a new contract. Techniques like this have nothing to do with business conversation directly, but they demonstrate that people who are amicable and likable often get what they want anyway.
Successful Networking Depends On You
Quality is always more important than quantity. If you don’t have a lot of time to attend networking events, you can still accomplish a lot in the time that you’re there; you just need to take a pro-active approach toward the situation. Once you see the results of these tips, you’ll understand why there’s no reason to ever leave a networking event unsatisfied.
Our next post will focus on ways that leaders can get their teams ready for the many demands of networking events. Interested? Consider joining our community to get that content (and much more on the science of making contacts) as soon as we release it.