7 Tips For Maximizing Networking Opportunities

Whether you are job-seeking, looking for mentors or simply interested in forming new connections, you’ve heard time and time again how important it is to network and attend industry events. However, are you networking effectively, and maximizing your time at these gatherings?

Here are seven tips for getting the most out of networking events:

1. Do some research
There’s no reason to go into an event blind. Take the time to look up information about key guests or speakers. When possible, look over the guest list before the event to get a sense of who else is planning to attend. Become familiar with the organization hosting the event, as it’s likely several of its employees will also be in attendance. However, remember to keep your research professional: there’s a difference between knowing someone’s work experience and commenting about things found on, say, a personal Facebook page.

2. Go in with a plan
It’s not enough to go to an event with the intention to network. Instead, have a road map of what you’d like to get out of the event itself. Keep it simple; maybe your goal is to exchange information with five new people. But keep in mind that plans can change. Don’t focus on reaching an arbitrary number in lieu of making meaningful connections. And remember: “meaningful” should be a two-way street and not just “meaningful to you.”

3. Be on time
Being fashionably late generally works if people know who you are, which probably isn’t the case when you’re attending with the purpose of building your network. It’s important to arrive close to the event’s designated start time, before groups have started to form. That way, you won’t have to try and squeeze yourself into the middle of a conversation.

4. Be approachable
Body language is everything, especially when meeting new people. It can be difficult to strike up a conversation with someone who is lurking in the shadows, arms crossed with a grimace on their face. (Standing in the corner holding a stack of business cards, waiting for someone to approach you, also probably isn’t the best way to signal you are open to conversation.) Instead, be accessible and present yourself with a relaxed posture and remember to smile.

5. Know when to stop talking
A conversation should never be dominated by one party. Instead, it should work like a tennis match, going back and forth. Listen, ask questions, and truly be engaged in what the other participant is saying, instead of focusing on what you want to tell him or her next.

6. Don’t give a pitch
Unless someone asks, keep your business plan to yourself. Instead, share general interests and keep the focus on having a genuine conversation. Networking shouldn’t be about just finding someone who can offer something to your business. It’s about forming new relationships. And if your business is brought up, only share what they want to know. Don’t go into presentation mode.

7. Follow up.
Networking doesn’t end when the event does. In fact, attending events is useless if you don’t take the time to follow up afterward. Best practices say you should follow up with an email or phone call within 24-48 hours of the event. It’s a good idea to reference the event and something you discussed, business related or otherwise. This is also the time to see if your new contact is interested in connecting again, perhaps for lunch or a quick cup of coffee. Keep the tone professional, but relaxed. Give them time to respond before sending a second follow-up. And think twice before sending a third.

Most people aren’t born with a natural talent for networking. And becoming an effective networker takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first, second, and maybe even third, networking attempts don’t pan out. You never know which event will lead to finding a mentor, a co-founder or a connection that will be useful to you, or your business, down the road.

Looking to put your networking skills to the test? Check out the JumpStart calendar for a consistently updated list of area events.