Sieze this opportunity!

You’d think in today’s cyber-connected world you wouldn’t need to leave your computer to network with great people in your field. That’s true, but only to a point. If you really want to make connections that will boost your career and help you become a part of your profession’s community, you need to get out to a few networking events.

It’s easy to sign up, pay, and then go to the event and get nothing out of it. Don’t do that to yourself. Business networking events are for making connections. Do just that by following these simple steps. [TWEET]

Find the right event.

Nothing’s worse than signing up for an event, taking the time to go and then realizing that the people there are really not in your field. That doesn’t mean you can’t make some connections anyway, but it’s not ideal. It’s easy to find a networking event that will benefit you. Look up a few networking events in your specific area of interest and then read some reviews so you know what to expect. Picking the right networking event will make it easier for you to meet the right people.

Prepare your game plan.

Before you go, make sure that you are ready. It’s easier to be friendly and confident when you feel prepared.

  • Dress appropriately. Know what the expected dress code will be for the event and choose your outfit accordingly. Do you get hot or cold easily? Plan ahead so that you will be comfortable during the event.

  • Grab plenty of business cards and keep a pen handy. You don’t want to randomly hand out business cards to everyone you pass by, but you do want to have them ready for when you make a genuine connection. The pen is just a handy thing to have around in case you need it or can lend it to someone else when needed.

  • See if you can find a list of people attending the event. Are there people from certain fields or companies that you’d like to meet? Make note of any top-priority guests.

  • Set goals for yourself that you control. Maybe you want to meet 10 new people or say hi to two people from Company X. Don’t set goals that are dependent on someone else doing something like asking for a later meeting. Keep it simple and keep it in your control.

  • Have your elevator pitch ready. Your elevator pitch is your 30-second speech that tells someone new who you are and what you do (and what makes you special). At a networking event, you may only have a short amount of time to make an impression, so you want to have your pitch sharpened to a fine point.

At the event.

Once you get to the networking event, make yourself comfortable. Don’t carry extra stuff around with you. If you get distracted by too much stuff, you won’t be able to focus on the people you meet.

  • A lot of these events will have cocktails available. This goes without saying, but don’t overdo it. It may be a casual atmosphere, but this is an event for professionals so you’ll want to act like one.

  • Be friendly. Wallflowers don’t do well at networking events. Sorry. You actually have to get out of your comfort zone and say hi to some other people. Make note of their name tags. Is it an interesting name? Do you have experience with their company? Little things can make easy segues into conversation.

  • Practice remembering names. There are a lot of tricks out there that can help. Some people have a knack for remembering names and faces while others struggle with it. In the professional world, it is a huge benefit to be able to remember the names of the people you meet.

  • Be present in the moment. Don’t scan the room for your next target while talking to someone. Don’t get lost in your own concerns or thoughts. Really listen to them and take note of how they react to you. Smiles are still very valuable commodities.

  • Don’t ditch someone who is still talking, but try not to get stuck in one conversation for too long. You want to meet a lot of people and they do too.

  • While you’re talking to people, focus on making new connections. This isn’t about making sales or getting a job interview. Right now, you just want to expand your network of professional acquaintances.

  • Think about connections. Did you just meet someone who loves their printer ten minutes after talking with someone who’s looking for a good one? Take a moment to introduce them. You’ll come across as a great person while helping someone out.

After the dust settles.

Once the event is done and you’ve had time to reflect, hopefully you feel good about how the business networking went. So what do you do in the days after the event to make sure it wasn’t just a friendly waste of time?

  • Take an inventory of what you collected at the event. Did you get any interesting books, pamphlets, or business cards? This is a good time to filter the stuff that really speaks to you from the chaff.

  • Reach out to the people you connected with at the event within the first few days. You can send an email if you’d like, but LinkedIn is made for these type of connections. Find their profile and connect with them there and you will also be able to find out a little bit more about your new friends. Make sure to thank them for taking the time to meet you. It’s a simple way to re-establish that connection and be thoughtful.

  • Did you have secondary goals for this event? Maybe you need to sell more product or find a new job. Now is the time to start laying the groundwork towards those goals with your new friends. If you found someone who could be a fit for what you need, see if they’ll have a lunch meeting or even talk a bit more on the phone. Be forthcoming, but polite. If they feel like you’ve only connected with them to get something from them, you may burn that bridge. Ease into it.

It’s important to keep a strong network of others like you in your field – and outside of it. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll know the right person at the right time that could lead to bigger things for you down the road. Business networking events are a great way to promote your personal brand and make a few new friends, but only if you get the most out it while you’re there.

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