The power of networking cannot be underestimated, and networking events are a great way to make it happen. The room is full of people just like you - ones with an interest in the field and a desire to meet others and improve their knowledge.
Two Types of Networking Events
There are two basic kinds of networking events, and both are important. Industry specific ones are those that relate to your job function specifically. For example, you are going to meet others in the accounting or graphic design industry. This can be an invaluable way to make important contacts that might help you line up that next job or glean highly useful information on best practices in your industry. And when you're considering industry-specific events, don't overlook those where your target audience might be! For example, a graphic designer who specializes in automotive should absolutely be part of the local automobile dealers association.
The second type is geographical. These are groups like Chambers of Commerce that bring together professionals from all types of industries. They can be a great place to meet contacts who might be able to offer you work, give you a vibe of the economy, or provide you with a sense of belonging to your local business community.
Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Networking Events
But just going to the event is not going to ensure success. Here are six tips for getting the most out of any networking event.
Get there early. If you are among the first arrivers, you can scope out the set-up of the room and see where you want to sit. You often can even glance over the name tags or the guest list to identify your key prospects whom you hope to meet.
Have a brief "elevator speech" ready. When someone asks what you do, have a ready answer that fits the situation. For example, if you are that graphic designer working with automobile dealers, tell people you meet exactly that, not just that you’re a graphic designer.
Focus on quality not quantity. It's not a race to collect the most business cards! This is one of the most common misconceptions at networking events. You want to have good solid conversations with a few people so that you really get to know them and have a memorable exchange. This allows you to have a framework for following-up post event because you will have had a conversation that made an impression.
Have some conversation openers and closers ready. Avoid being stuck in a boring conversation about the weather by having a handful of discussion topics handy -- why they are there, if they've been there before, some industry news. Anything that will give you the opportunity to get to know the person better. By the same token, you want some closers ready too, for that inevitable lull in the conversation when you know you should move on and make another contact.
Follow-up. The key to the networking event success is not what happens at the event, but what happens after. If you can, take a moment to jot a discreet note down about the person you spoke with so you can reference it in a follow-up. At the least, make sure you have secured their business card -- don't rely on them following up because you have given them yours. Contact them on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter. If they're someone you'd like to have a more involved conservation with, wait a day or two and contact them to refresh their memory and suggest a meeting.
Networking events can be not only a goldmine of potential contacts, but a fun setting as well. Just remember, everyone there probably feels as awkward as you do. Being the one to put other people at ease will ensure that you are remembered positively.