No matter your industry, one thing stands true: it’s all about who you know. Networking is a valuable professional tool. Just look at the success of LinkedIn. Having a large network of industry or related professional contacts promotes career growth, expansion of services and enhances interpersonal skills. If you aren’t a seasoned social butterfly, going to networking events can be intimidating, and having a negative experience at an event can work against your professional reputation. Introvert or extrovert: it doesn’t matter – everyone has the tools to be successful. Here are some of our tips for success.
1. Wear professional (but comfortable) attire
When attending a networking event, it’s important to dress for success. Even though that’s a cliché, take a moment to consider the type of event you are going to. What type of people will be there? Understanding this is important for promoting positive first impressions. Are your clothes clean and ironed? Are there coffee stains? Does your wardrobe choice show off the real (professional) you? Networking events can last anywhere from one and four hours, so not only do you have to consider the manner you are presenting with, you should also keep your personal comfort in mind. Nothing is more awkward than trying to have a great conversation with a potential client, customer or business partner, when you are continuously adjusting your blouse, fixing your tie, or wiggling your toes in impractical shoes.
2. Bring business cards
It’s easy to make the argument that everything is digital nowadays. When you go to a networking event, it’s still mostly industry standard to hand someone your business card to keep in touch. For one, it creates a touch point of you physically handing someone something, which makes you more memorable than simply having someone type your name into a phone. The other benefit is that at any professional event, the attendees are likely meeting a ton of people so having your business name and title on a card makes you stand out more. It also ensures at the end of the night, people can remember the great conversations you had, rather than struggling to figure out “who the guy who does the event lighting” was (PS: That is Pierre from Orange Frog).
3. Keep it clean
Unless you are (or are meeting) a complete germophobe, the courteous and professional way to introduce yourself to someone is with a handshake. A solid handshake can help set a confident, positive first impression, but it’s also a great way to spread germs. Carrying around hand sanitizer ensures you can keep making great introductions and slightly reduce the spread of bacteria (just don’t let them see you use it – that could look offensive). Good hygiene, happy smiles, and clean, well kept clothing are all signs of an attractive and professional networking connection. And on the off-chance that someone is really nervous to meet you and has sweaty-palm syndrome, you have the hand sanitizer available for after that interaction.
4. Stay hydrated
If you don’t thrive in new spaces, surrounded by a room of strangers, while trying to remember who people are and what they do, a simple drink might help. Having one glass of wine or beer (if you drink) helps calm the nerves, boosts your confidence and likely helps you blend into the crowd – since chances are, most people are carrying around a drink. Even holding a bottle of water helps because you can’t fidget when you are holding onto something and your movements are usually more fluid and slow, which helps you exude confidence rather than appearing jittery and nervous.
Networking 101 tip: know your limits and stay respectful.
5. Carry a phone charger
Earlier on, the importance of business cards was discussed, but even so, many people at networking events want to add you to LinkedIn on the spot so you can keep track of what they are working on professionally. Since most networking events occur in the evenings, after a full day of work, it’s easy to burn through your cell phone battery before you even make it to the event. Carrying a mobile battery pack or even a charger allows you to stay connected, look up quick facts for conversation starters and Google that person’s name when you have a quick forgetful moment. Just remember that you’re at an in-person event and staying glued to your mobile device can give off the impression that you are not interested in making connections and are not listening to what people have to say.
Event planner tip: Offer charging stations at your event.
6. Hone your networking pitch
If you are attending a professional business event, it’s vital to have mastered your elevator pitch. Who are you? What are you about? Define your offering and why should people in X, Y, Z industry care? Communicate your unique selling proposition (USP). This is different than a sales pitch because the object is not to close a sale and sign a contract at the end. It’s to introduce yourself, show expertise, prove credibility and pique someone’s interest enough that they will remember you if a situation ever comes up where they require your unique services. To get really good at this, try writing it down, make some edits, say it out loud, and then practice with a friend or colleague. Then take note of all feedback received when you meet new people and fine tune it every time you attend a networking event.
7. Take notes
You aren’t in school and there isn’t an upcoming test, but taking notes is how to get the most out of attending a networking event. Whether you are a pen and paper kind of attendee or you like to type on a tablet or mobile device, note taking gives you an edge on other people. It helps you remember what was discussed with specific attendees (for when you send a follow-up email), add to a business card if someone’s card does not include a title, and it just helps you keep all your new connections straight, especially if you meet many. You can also refer to these notes for the next event you attend and constantly be improving yourself.
8. Always follow up
Think of when you applied for a job. It’s fairly common practice to send a follow-up email to the interviewer or HR coordinator after an interview thanking them for the opportunity to meet them and offering additional assets or inquiring about next steps. A business event is no different. Sending a quick email or LinkedIn message with a simply “it was nice to meet you” and throwing in a personal detail or two about the conversation had is a great way to stay top of mind with potential clients, partners or colleagues. Even awkward or unpleasant networking interactions can be improved with a simple follow-up email and it also reminds people who you are, what you do and they will remember your professionalism, which makes them more likely to consider you or refer you to someone else if the opportunity arises.
Whether you love attending networking events or dread them, sometimes they are a professional necessity to grow your professional contacts and climb the ladder in your industry. You don’t have to be a smooth-talking, perfectly enunciating communications expert to successfully attend. These tips combined with your in-depth knowledge of your business, product or service are keys to success. When in doubt, have a plan and talk about what you know.
Ashley Saunders, Matriarch, Strategist, Live Social Coordinator