If you operate in any kind of a professional capacity, chances are you’ve attended at least one networking event. They’re usually fun and provide a good opportunity for you to connect with other like-minded professionals or, even better, someone who can help you with your next project or venture. (If you’re lucky, the finger food will be good, too.) Unfortunately, outside of the polite small talk and introductions, some people are just never able to truly capitalize on the value that these events provide.
It’s not that the events aren’t good, but instead, that a great majority of people tend to think of them as somewhere to sell their products and services, instead of what it actually is: an opportunity for mutually beneficial and equal exchange. This is why after attending a few events, you end up with a gazillion business cards and you never know what to do with them. The end result? You file these cards away and just never use them. Nobody wins.
How can you instead maximize on the true potential of your next networking event? I’ve outlined a few tips that can help.
1. Develop an end goal. If you just want to get out of the house or office and enjoy a glass of wine while talking to strangers, fine. If you want to leave the event with potential partnerships or collaborations, act accordingly. Before you even leave your home, you should already know what your objective is for attending the event and whom you need to talk to when you get there.
2. Dress comfortably, confidently and very importantly, observe the dress code. Keep in mind that if the dress code requires formal wear, you probably won’t feel very comfortable or confident when you’re the only one who shows up in shorts and a t-shirt (I saw this happen recently). Your confidence level will undoubtedly impact your ability to interact comfortably.
3. Ditch your +1. Okay, maybe not ditch them entirely… But you should spend as little time as possible with your +1 or the people you already know, unless a third party is introduced to the conversation. Your objective at networking events is to build new, meaningful relationships. If you already know someone, you also should already know what value you can both exchange.
4. Keep conversations short and specific. People are usually super nice at gatherings and networking events so it’s easy for both of you to allow a conversation to run on, even just out of politeness. However, extended small talk is a waste of both your and the other person’s time. Based on your pre-determined end goals, you should be able to quickly identify if this is someone you need to be talking to, and also if the value that you are offering is what they are looking for.
5. Lead with value. When you introduce yourself, instead of stating your job title and leaving the rest up to the other person’s interpretation, be clear about what it is that you actually do. For example, my introduction is, “I’m Kenishia, a Financial Educator who teaches millennials how to master their money and build wealth, through financial literacy.” This clearly states who I am, what I do, what value I provide, and allows both of us to immediately determine if we are the right fit for each other.
6. Acknowledge future value. Not everyone you meet will be an immediate resource to you, even if you are to them. Regardless, the relationship must still be nurtured. This is where social media comes in. Follow and interact with your new connections on their different social media platforms (LinkedIn especially) and stay current on their endeavors. Connecting on social media also puts both of you in each other’s peripherals, which is a great place to be if or when future opportunities to work together arise.
7. FOLLOW-UP. Don’t leave money, deals or opportunities on the table by not following up after making a connection with someone. Taking their business card isn’t enough, you have to actually use the information on the card. Always make contact within 24 to 48 hours after meeting someone valuable. Even a super quick phone call will suffice.
“Hi, we met at XYZ event a couple days ago. I’d love for us to talk about working on ABC together soon. I’ll follow-up with some more details but in the meantime, if you have any ideas, this is my number. Please feel free to reach out. We’ll talk more soon.“
You can also send this in an email. After your initial follow-up, don’t be afraid to follow-up again a few weeks or months later.
In closing, remember that relationships are an exchange of value, and you should expect as much value as you are willing to provide, and provide as much value as you are expecting. Keep this in mind for the next networking event you attend.