Swapping business cards or connecting digitally might be convenient, but it's only the first step in creating a successful network. Industry events are the best place to connect, and if done correctly, there are many doors to be opened. Here are some of the key factors to take into account before any networking event.
Prepare and Plan Ahead of the Event
It might be tempting to simply show up to a networking event and hope that everything will fall into place on its own. Surely, everyone is going to be there so what's to prepare? Sorry to burst your bubble, but showing up to a networking event unprepared is like going to a restaurant for a nice meal when you're full - the options are there but there's no way for you to enjoy them. In order to make most of your and others' time, some preparation ahead of time is invaluable.
● Research networking events: The majority of events and conferences nowadays have a designated time for networking. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the event programme and clarify whether you need to register for the networking sessions to avoid disappointment.
● Quality over quantity: While it might be tempting to attend as many networking sessions as possible, it's absolutely essential to pick them according to your needs. Each particular session might focus on a different aspect thus attracting a specific demographic. In order to connect with people you intend to, pick a session that is the most likely to focus on your key demographic.
● Familiarise yourself with the attendees: Now it's easier than ever to know ahead of time, who you might expect to see at any networking event. If there is anyone in particular you might want to connect with, make sure to get up to speed with a little bit of information about them. Furthermore, you can study their Linkedin profile and see whether you have any common contacts that could either help in connecting or serve as an icebreaker.
● Connect before the event: It might be a good idea to connect with people you intend to speak with at the event ahead of time and schedule a time for a meeting. Networking events are known to be fast-paced so planning ahead will not only make your life easier but will allow you to spend the time efficiently.
At the Event
While it's a great idea to have goals and potential outcomes in mind, don't limit yourself only to those at the event. A certain plan will allow you to stay focused, but be open to an unexpected turn of events - whether it means connecting with someone you didn't expect, acquiring new business ventures, or simply making new friends.
● If the opportunity allows it, make sure to take full advantage of your setting - sometimes it might be possible to briefly talk to some of the speakers, thought leaders, or influencers.
● Exchange knowledge and experience with industry colleagues. Recruitment, in particular, is a collaborative effort so learning from each other and supporting each other's efforts can go a long way.
● Don't limit your interactions only to people that you intended to communicate with. Considering that industry networking events often attract a similar crowd, this is a great opportunity to also make connections that might not directly benefit you, but the more people you connect with, the greater chances you have for unforeseen future opportunities. Reports from surveys indicate that nearly 100% of people admit that face-to-face interactions are essential for future business ventures.
Most skills need to be perfected no matter how expert your knowledge is. Especially when it comes to things like public speaking and networking - even people who do it on a daily basis practice all the time. What seems effortless isn't something you're born with - it really is all about practising and perfecting.
To network effectively you need to not only be approachable, but also someone worth talking to. This involves understanding that networking is a two-way street and while you might need something from someone, the same applies to the other party.
Ask questions, listen, interact! Don't push your own agenda too hard, but be ready for opportunities that allow you to pitch your own ideas.
Follow Up and Maintain Relationships
Again, it's worth noting that the recruitment industry is fast-paced and both events and people move through your everyday professional life at a great speed. In order to make networking a long-term venture that also adds value later on, it is absolutely essential to nurture the contacts you've made.
Start by always following up after making new connections at an event. Connect on Linkedin with a custom message and never use generic messages. Business professionals are expert at sensing a disingenuous approach.
Take advantage of social media and make sure to occasionally interact with your new connects on various platforms. Again, it's not about being pushy but rather showing genuine interest in maintaining professional relationships that over time might benefit everyone involved.