How to Network at An Event
Have you noticed that networking events are starting to resemble speed dating? Attendees move group to group, handing out business cards and trying to cover as much ground as possible.
The problem with this approach is that you can’t make many genuine connections. And honestly, if this is your strategy, you’re better off staying home.
I recently chatted with Social Quant CEO and entrepreneur Mike Kawula, who shared with me some of his own favorite networking tips. If you want to know exactly how to network at an event, these before, during and after-conference strategies are far more likely to drive leads for your business. Or, at the very least, some new relationships and referral sources.
Before the Conference
Again, too many people use networking events to meet as many people as possible. The problem is you make very few genuine and lasting impressions.
That said, with some prep work, you can learn how to network at events to meet the right people and creating lasting impressions.
Following these five steps before a conference will set you up for success before you even walk through the door:
1. Get a list of attendees and speakers.
You should be able to get a list of the speakers on the event website. Most event organizers are also willing to share a list of attendees. If you are unable to get a list of who is coming, go to Twitter and do a Twitter search to see who’s using the hashtag for the event or talking about attending.
2. Make a list of both attendees and speakers in Twitter.
Make a Twitter list of the speakers and another list of attendees. Trust me, the attendees will be flattered to be added to the list.
3. Engage, engage, engage.
Start conversations with the event attendees and speakers and make plans to connect at the event in person. Are there many sessions going on at one time? Which ones do you want to attend and who else on your attendee list will be going to those sessions?
Start developing relationships and learning about the attendees before heading to networking events.
4. Identify five to 10 people you want to target.
Again, if you go to networking events without a plan, you’ll walk away empty handed. When considering how to network at an event, identify the five or 10 people you most want to get to know. Do some research on them in advance and start conversations with them online.
By connecting with attendees online before the event, meeting in person will be much more comfortable for everyone.
5. Plan meals around the conference.
Make reservations in advance. Reach out to the people you want to form deeper relationships with, let them know that you have reservations already and invite them to join you. Who wouldn’t love that; right?!
Bonus tip: Dress for success at the event. Wear something comfortable so you’ll be at ease but also something you love so you’ll be at your most confident.
During the Conference
The number one goal of your time at networking events should be to form genuine connections. Always make direct eye contact, ask questions, and actively listen and provide value whenever possible.
If you go with the intention of providing value and not just walking away with value, you’re almost guaranteed to be successful in the long run.
Here are a few tips that Mike had to share about how to network at an event successfully:
1. Avoid asking the standard “so what do you do?” question.
Instead of asking someone for their elevator speech, try asking them what got them started in their business. It’s a relationship question that will not only help you know the person better, but also help them stand out in your mind. You could also ask what brought them to the event and what they were looking to take away.
2. Have an elevator speech prepared.
You’re going to get asked what you do, so be prepared with your personal elevator pitch. Make sure that you are as genuine and passionate as possible. Whatever you do, don’t sound rushed or like you’re making a sales pitch. Just relax and share with your new friend why you love your business the way you do.
3. Connect people – with each other.
Learn the names of people you’re meeting and try to connect them with others in the room. Not only will it show that you’re actively listening and learning names but, more importantly, you’ll be providing value. You never know how much you’ll be able to help someone by connecting them with the right person.
4. Use a business card app.
First, don’t be a business card collector. Wait until you’ve formed a genuine connection with someone before asking to exchange cards.
That said, don’t run the risk that you might misplace a business card after you do have it in hand. Use a business card app and scan it on the spot.
5. Track the activity on Twitter.
Is there a conference hashtag? There usually is. However, if not, you can engage with attendees using your list. Share valuable tips and pictures, with permission of course, and tag the appropriate individuals.
Bonus tip: Walking up to a group of people can be intimidating, especially if you aren’t an extrovert. Try to arrive early before people have had the opportunity to divide into groups.
After the Conference
After networking events, the goal is to keep the relationship going. I mean, you didn’t do all that work to never talk to any of the speakers or attendees ever again! Check out Mike’s favorite tips for following up after an event:
1. Stand out by sending handwritten notes.
A lot of people follow up via LinkedIn or email, so what better way to stand out than by sending a handwritten note?
Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them and that you look forward to sending them some referrals. And don’t forget to slip your business card inside the envelope!
Set reminders to follow up with those individuals one or two weeks later via email, just to see how they’re doing.
You’ll be amazed at the high response rate you get from handwritten notes. The strategy very often results in new business or, at the very least, referrals.
2. Follow up via email or phone.
If you’re unable to locate someone’s physical address, follow up with an email or phone call within 48 to 72 hours after the event. Make sure that the emails are personalized for each individual. Yes, a standardized email can save you time, but it won’t be memorable or further a relationship.
Not sure what to say?
Try thanking the person for any helpful information they provided, telling them you enjoyed a story they shared, or sending them an article you think would interest them.
3. Connect on LinkedIn.
Connect with the people you meet at networking events on LinkedIn. Make sure you take the time to personalize the LinkedIn invitation, reminding them where you met. Create reminders to follow up with them on a monthly or quarterly basis.
4. Share information from the event and create your own content.
It’s easy for people to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information shared at conferences. Consider sharing any recap posts that you come across with your new contacts. You might also consider writing your own! Doing this provides value and highlights your own expertise. (Never a bad thing.)
5. Thank the organizer.
This is an often-overlooked step in the follow up process. Still, you never know how you might be able to help each other in the future.
Bonus tip: Never EVER add anyone to your email list unless they give you permission. Handing you a business card is not a request to join your email list.
Never forget, at the end of the day, people do business with people they like, know and trust. By learning how to network at an event, you’ll have opportunities to develop real, authentic connections with people. One genuine relationship is worth far more than 100 connections with people you never hear from again.
So, what are your best networking tips? We would love to hear them in the comments section below!