Networking is vitally important for your career because it can open the door to exciting possibilities like meeting influential people, a future mentor, or new opportunities. It can also be both personally and professionally enriching.
So why do some of us avoid building our network through networking events? Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown or the thought of it makes us feel uneasy.
To help you overcome these emotions, here's how to prepare for a networking event and to get the most out of the event, while you're there and after you leave.
Before You Go
You could also check out associations that your LinkedIn network belongs to and see if they offer networking events or conferences. If an association really interests you, join it and then be sure to subscribe to its newsletter to learn about upcoming events.
Preregistering for events is a good idea because you will be less likely to bail if you’ve already registered. That will also give you time to prepare and so make anticipating the event less stressful.
Get mentally prepared: Ask yourself these questions to set a goal about what you want to accomplish at the event:
- Are there a number of contacts you want to hit?
- What will your “ask” be?
- Is there a problem you’re looking to solve?
- Are you looking for a new hire?
- Is there a type of person you want to meet?
Having a goal to achieve will help you maintain your focus and keep the nervousness at bay.
Next, research what each event is about. If there is a presentation, research the presenter and think of questions you’d like to ask them. If the event will be held in an interesting location, read up on it because that will give you a great conversation starter.
Prepare a rough outline about what professional and/or personal information you will share with new contacts. Having the outline will help you keep the conversation going without babbling on and enable you to avoid those awkward moments of silence.
Get physically prepared: Plan the outfit you will wear. If it’s after work, bring a new outfit with you to change, so you will feel fresh and special.
Find some time to relax before the event begins. Check yourself out in a mirror to make sure everything is in place. Then take a few slow deep breaths. You are not going into a competition. No one knows about the goal you’ve set for yourself at this event. Only you will know if you succeed or not.
While You're There
Remember to smile: You have worked hard to get to this point and should be proud of what you’ve already accomplished. So smile for yourself and for others. Believe that you are someone worth meeting because you are!
Work on your goal: As you meet new people, consider ways they could help you meet the goal you've set for yourself. Treat everyone gently and listen attentively to what they have to say, even if you realize they aren't someone who can help you achieve that goal. Who knows? You may have met someone who will become a new good friend or who could help you reach a goal—or whom you could help reach a goal—in the future.
Enjoy yourself: No matter your primary goal, your secondary goal should be to have fun. Don't put so much emphasis on making the event a success that you forget to be yourself at the moment. You'll make a better impression on everyone you meet if you're there in a spirit of fun.
Keep track of the new people you've met: After you've made a connection with someone, take some notes so you'll be able to recall who everyone was. The more people you chat with, the hazier the details may be later. As you're writing your notes, visualize the person's face again so it will be easier to recognize them the next time you see them in person.
Leave at the right time: Make your exit when you've accomplished or made satisfactory progress toward your goal.
After the Event
Review your notes: Look over your notes, remember the conversations you've had, and decide whom you'd most like to follow up with. Even if you don't feel you've made a worthwhile connection with someone, you should at least follow up with a LinkedIn invite and perhaps an email.
Deepen the connection: If you really hit it off with someone and/or think they're an important networking connection, definitely follow up with an email. Ask to meet with them again sometime, perhaps over coffee or for lunch.
Don't come on too high-pressure, like a used-car salesman. Let the relationship develop a bit before you ask about job openings at their company or seek an interview, informational or otherwise, with them or someone else in their company.
Plan for your next event: If you still feel a bit apprehensive about networking, plan to go to another networking event pretty quickly to keep up your momentum. But now that you've gotten one down, they'll get easier and you'll gain even more confidence and get more out of each one.