How I Survived My First Networking Event
By Chris Jensen, Jr. Communications Coordinator
Networking is the easiest way to make a connection that doesn’t involve a glowing screen. While LinkedIn may be quick and easy, “connecting” is not as memorable as shaking someone’s hand and having a conversation.
Since PR is built on relationships, we enjoy our fair share of networking at (W)right On. It was only a matter of time before I was tossed into the ring.
My first event was Inbound Marketing Week, and luckily for me, it was held at a brewery. I had a great time at the event, and the tips my colleagues gave me at a team brainstorm helped me navigate this new, uncharted territory (The beer didn’t hurt either).
Here are a few key points that helped me through my first venture into networking:
- Don’t want to go it alone? Team up with a buddy (non-colleague) in your industry. This is a good chance to nurture a relationship with an existing contact. Plus, if other coworkers are at the event, this will give you the opportunity to divide and conquer.
- In order to get in the right frame of mind before you attend the event, set the goal of meeting interesting people that do interesting things. That’s a much less daunting goal than saying, “meet three qualified prospects.” If you go in with the mindset that you’re only looking for new business, you could turn people off.
- Think about 2-3 questions you want to ask someone in advance – don’t jump in empty-handed! Have a couple go-to questions as backups if there’s not a unique talking point right off the bat. To that point, ask questions to lead down the path about how you can help. One of our favorites? “How do you get the word out about your business?”
- Quality over quantity. Meeting ten interns from various businesses may be easy, but having a great conversation with the CEO could be the start of a new partnership.
- Yet, we can’t forget our next rule: Be nice to everyone, even if they’re not necessarily a direct prospect. Remember the six degrees of separation!
- If all else fails, look for the person standing on their own. They’ll be grateful you approached them and saved them from that awkward moment. Or, if you see someone standing alone while you’re already speaking to someone, give him or her a smile and welcome them into the conversation.
- Don’t limit conversations to people similar to yourself – stay open to everyone. While it might be easier to strike up a conversation with someone your own age and likeness, try stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s the beauty of networking – you never know who you will meet.
- Don’t forget your business cards, and be sure to give them out. Know your elevator pitch – sometimes you only have a few seconds to explain yourself.
- Be a connector. Is there someone from your existing network that you can connect a new contact with? In PR, marketing and similar professions, it’s important to provide value with connections.
- Follow up via email within 24 hours. Make time that night or the next morning to send emails to everyone you met. It’s one of the easiest ways to be remembered.
- Use a spreadsheet for following up with new connections. Organization is key in our industry, therefore, you should keep track of connections you wish to continue a relationship with. Set reasonable times to follow up so you don’t risk forgetting or annoying someone.
- Maintain your connections with LinkedIn and social networks. While I believe it is better to connect IRL, social media helps to keep new relationships top-of-mind.
- And remember: networking can begin as soon as you step foot out of your car, so always be on your game.
I walked into my first event a little nervous and unsure what to expect. Yet, after chatting with the first couple of people, I realized the easiest way to go about it was to just enjoy myself. Sure, you may have goals going in and specific people to meet, but the best way to achieve these is to have a good time.
Cheesy? Maybe, but you’re more likely to make real connections when you’re natural and upbeat, rather than a card-pushing robot.
Any favorite networking tips you rely on? Let me know in the comments.
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