Networking is an increasingly important part of every professional event you attend, whether it’s a talk, a panel or a company mixer. According to a recent survey conducted by Lou Adler, hiring expert and LinkedIn Influencer, as many as 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking.
If you follow a few rules, you will get so much more out of the next networking session you attend.
RULE #1: BE PREPARED
Prepare yourself mentally and quite literally. Firstly, look up attendees of the event and find out where they work, where they worked prior to that and what other interests they have.
It is also a good idea to research the event managers, since they will have all the relevant contacts for your networking desires. That way, it will be so much easier to ask targeted questions and apart from that, your preparation won’t stay unnoticed and might impress just the right people.
Secondly, make sure to bring your business cards – if you have any – a pen and notepad or alternatively a smartphone with a notes app to jot down information that your conversation partners might give you. Voilà, you are equipped for the event!
RULE #2: SCOUT UPON ARRIVAL
Upon arriving at the event, take a good look around the room and see if you can find a few of the attendees you have already researched on LinkedIn.
Now is the time to think of a good opening line. If the networking session is part of a talk or a speaker’s panel, this will be easy. You can just start the conversation with something along the lines of “How did you like xx’s talk about xx?”.
The same goes for events that have certain overall themes to them, for example a charity event raising awareness for gender discrimination. At an event like this, you can simply approach potentially interesting conversation partners and ask them about their view on that particular issue.
RULE #3: MAKE INFORMED CHOICES
Go for quality over quantity. One valuable connection can potentially lead you to 100 more, so make conscious decisions about who you give your business card to and who you really want to stay in contact with.
Networking events may only take thirty minutes to an hour, so try to make use of that time by speaking to people that might help further your career.
RULE #4: BE POLITE AND STAY POLITE
We all know this situation: You started speaking to someone at a company mixer and realized after five seconds that they aren’t the most interesting person to talk to. Happens. But don’t make the mistake of looking over their shoulder to see if there are more interesting people around, this is not only impolite, but may also reflect badly on you.
Also, keep in mind that every contact can be useful, the person you’re talking to right now could have very valuable connections. Exchange names and e-mails at a minimum, then check out their social media profiles later and see if they can set you up with contacts you truly desire.
RULE #5: GIVE RATHER THAN TAKE
We have established how you’re going to show up to the event and what your first steps are. Now let’s get into how you are actually going to talk to them.
When networking, it is clear that everybody wants to get the best out of it for themselves, but don’t make it too obvious that you’re eager to make valuable contacts that might help you.
Instead, think of a way to help them first. For example, you might be talking to a business owner or manager who is double your age. As a millennial, and therefore digital native, you might have skills that older generations haven’t acquired easily.
You could offer your insight on working with social media or how to attract younger audiences in an ever-changing market.
Lifehack.org, a productivity website, also emphasizes this reciprocity. Always look for ways to be of service to your contacts. If they are looking to connect with one of your peers, be that link for them. If they need a hand completing a task that you’re good at, offer your help.
RULE #6: DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW UP
Now that you’ve taken all the right steps to make valuable connections, don’t forget to follow up on it! Again, use LinkedIn to send invitations to connect. If you’ve done everything right, you should have a stack of business cards in your pocket.
Research your contacts’ companies and see if there might be any opportunities of interest to you. If you do end up applying for a position at one of these firms, feel free to message your contact and ask them for an endorsement (after you’ve already established a steady relationship).
Drew Hendricks, Contributing Writer at Inc., Forbes and Entrepreneur, also suggests continuously working on your LinkedIn profile by sharing or creating relevant articles your audience might find informative. This is another element that can be used in future conversations with your business peers.
Prepare yourself in every way possible before the event, by looking up relevant people on LinkedIn and equipping yourself with material. Upon arrival, find the most interesting people and think of a good opening line to start the conversation. Focus on giving rather than taking from them, so they will be more willing to help you out as well. Follow up with your new contacts after the event and establish real relationships with them.