I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to attend networking events. Almost every conference I attend is preceded by “registration and networking”. By and large I have avoided these sessions. Recently, I read an HBR.org article by Derek Coburn titled Don’t Waste Your Time on Networking Events that prompted me to reflect; maybe the problem is me!
Much of the problem with networking events is how we approach them. Wandering into a room full of strangers and not knowing the shared thread is about THE most ineffective way to network.
Young salespeople are often encouraged to attend networking events with the thought they can meet new prospects or referral sources. So, they find an upcoming event nearby and show up. Is it surprising that it usually turns out to be a waste of their time?
Let’s start at the beginning and approach a networking event like a sales call… plan it.
If there is a list of attendees available in advance, look for people with whom you want to connect. Or, when you arrive, scan the name tags on the registration table. Look for titles and companies that you want to meet.
Bring someone with you to the event. It could be a customer, or maybe a contact from a previous job you haven’t seen in a while. Even better; invite them to bring a guest too. Renew a connection, meet a new contact and work as a team. You will get more out of the event when you can share the experience with others.
Look for events that are specific to industries or job titles in your sweet spot. For example, if your point of entry to prospects is the CEO/president, attend executive panel discussions. If you are looking for small business owners attend events hosted by the Chamber of Commerce or small business groups. Watch your local business journals for upcoming events.
Look for events with great speakers or expert panels discussing topics important to you. It’s more likely you’ll find like-minded folks attending. Even if you don’t make a connection, at least you will have some ideas to take home.
When you make a connection be sure to follow up after the event. At the very least, confirm you met and wish them continued success. Share one of your take-a-ways from the event. If your new connection has client potential ask for a follow up meeting and mention specific topics you would like to discuss further.
Done poorly, networking events can be a colossal waste of time. Done well, networking events can be a great way to grow your connections and grow your business.
There are no guarantees, but you can increase your odds of success.