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Jan 26 2015
Much like a blind date, attending a networking event can bring up anxieties. Even the most experienced executive can have some apprehension about walking into an event alone and trying to integrate into groups of people and conversations. Since it is a fact that most jobs are found through networking, it is worth your time to avoid common missteps and hone your networking skills.
Stage One – Introductions
Ask someone at the registration desk for help. When attending an event for the first time, you may not know anyone and want an introduction to key participants. Ask the registration desk staff who they would suggest you connect with (after giving them a brief overview of your purpose for attending the event). They will usually be more than happy to give you a name or two and even introduce you to that person.
Introduce yourself to the organizer. If you want to find out more about the organization, the event, and/or the attendees, the organizer is a good person to connect with. He or she is usually the lynchpin to the group and would be able to help you find the right people to network with.
Find the major hangout in the room. This could be the bar area, speaker’s area, or food table. Wherever you see a group of people gathered, head towards that group so you can strike up a conversation as people mingle.
Stage Two – Engagement
Be friendly. For most introverts, being friendly in a room full of strangers is challenging, but most executives have had to strengthen the skills that help them present themselves as confident leaders. Think of meeting new potential business connections much like meeting new friends – you want to build rapport first and let the relationship develop organically over time.
Get to know the other person first. People love to talk about themselves and their business. Ask questions that can reveal how this person would be a good connection for you. For example, asking “What is your biggest challenge with marketing?” their reply may reveal issues that you have solved at previous employers, so you may have resources or ideas that could be helpful to that person.
Give someone a reason to connect. In our fast-paced world today, people only have time to meet and greet those who might have a positive impact in their life (business or personal). Be that person! Offering your network and support to others is key to building relationships. People remember those who helped them and want to return the favor.
Stage Three – After the Event
Follow up. During the event you should be collecting business cards so you have contact information for those you want to follow up with. Hopefully you have made a note about that person or key issue that will help you be specific in your communication to him or her. For example: Hi John, we met at the AMA meeting last week and discussed XXX. I mentioned this Ted Talk providing some good points that might be beneficial to you. Here is the link. People appreciate when someone follows through with a promise of information or a connection, they tend to reciprocate, and it gives you an opportunity to reach out to that person again.
Use social media to your advantage. Check out the social media sources of the people you met. They may belong to LinkedIn groups that could be advantageous to you. Read their company blogs or published articles as these may be a trusted source of information. Through social media channels like LinkedIn you may find mutual acquaintances that can connect you to others in their network. Even mentioning the meet-up or event in a LinkedIn group may create interest from others who want to find out more and will reach out to you.
A few key points to remember:
Set reasonable expectations before the event. Do you want to meet specific people? Connect with the event speaker? Meet people with resources for XX? If you start with a plan before attending the event, your “purpose” will help you achieve your goal. A small investment of time before attending the event can really pay off.
An effective networking plan includes both online and in-person networking. A good balance of both produces the best results.