Networking. Ugh. Did you just get a queasy feeling in your stomach? I’ve participated in quite a few networking events in my professional life. You know what I’ve realized? It’s a LOT of work!
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your next event:
Research the attendees in advance. If at all possible, obtain a list of the event registrants. You’ll want to create a target list of critical connections, those that you should “bump” into, and individuals who would be nice to meet, but aren’t crucial to your success. Keep the list manageable. A list with 100 people is nearly impossible to maintain. Focus on the critical few, not the insignificant many. Look them up on LinkedIn or through a Google search. You’d be amazed at how much easier it is to find someone when you’ve seen their picture on their LinkedIn profile (don’t forget to send a short, personalized connection request!)
Have a wingman (or woman.) You can’t do it alone. Well, I guess you can do whatever you put your mind to, but I’m telling you it won’t be easy without a connection point. That’s the role of the wingman. It’s kind of like on How I Met Your Mother when Barney introduce Ted at parties…”haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavvvve you met Ted?” Pick a wingman that knows the audience and can help introduce you to connections of interest. Having someone facilitate an introduction can do wonders. People won’t think you’re so weird. Plus, if the person introducing you has credibility (aim for someone that does…) then you inherit a bit of that credibility with the person you’re meeting. Win-win. Be sure to thank your wingman.
Utilize traditional and non-traditional connection methods. LinkedIn is my go-to resource, but not everyone has a profile. Don’t limit yourself. Case in point: I made two very important business connections recently at a conference simply because I followed the event’s Twitter hashtag. They were tweeting the good stuff, so I checked their profile and sent them a short @reply asking if we could meet at the next networking break by the big orange table in the exhibit hall. Both replied and both showed up! In this case, social media was very helpful. Don’t forget about the trusty telephone. If you pick it up and call the person so that you can secure a meeting time, even better. Don’t be a pest. Just be nice and keep the conversation short. They have their own networking list.
Follow up. I’m serious…DO IT. The majority of people never follow up after an initial meeting. That’s a hard fact that blows my mind! Why would you NOT follow up? Even if the person did not really fit on your list of critical connections, they may know someone who does. Keep the lines of communication open and send them a quick “nice to meet you” note. This should be easy for you. You got their business card, right??
Networking isn’t rocket science. Well, unless you’re networking with rocket scientists. For the rest of us, it’s simply interacting with people, building relationships around shared interests. That’s it. So the next time you sign up for a networking event, go with a plan. People will notice and appreciate your efforts, which could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship!
PS. Don’t forget to have breath mints and wash/sanitize your hands frequently. It’s flu season and nobody wants your germs. :)