By Kathleen Sullivan
Business and professional meetings, conferences, and trade shows provide a range of opportunities to network face to face and uncover valuable professional contacts and business referrals.
However, many people attend these events with little forethought and a haphazard approach to socializing and expanding their network.
To turn every business meeting into a networking event, follow these 10 tips:
1. Define your networking goals in advance of the meeting. Decide whom you want to connect with at the meeting and why. Research who is attending by reviewing the names of participants, speakers, and vendors on invitations, distribution lists, and membership directories.
Create your target networking list and use it as your road map at the meeting. Learn more about the people on your target networking list before the meeting.Check out their backgrounds on Google or LinkedIn. Reach out to them ahead of time and ask if they would be willing to speak with you at the meeting. Start building a dialogue before you connect with them in person.
2. Develop and practice your networking introduction. Create a 30-second introduction that provides an overview of your background and career goals. State why you have an interest in speaking with target contacts. Have general topics to discuss with people you encounter unexpectedly. Always include an offer to assist them with networking or introductions.
3. Update your business cards. Bring more than enough current business cards to the meeting assuming you will have many opportunities for networking beyond your target list. If you are entering a new field, you may want to create customized cards including your career objective and networking goals.
4. Design your meeting networking plan. Identify where and how you will connect with people on your target list. Review the meeting agenda and floor plan. Seek out target contacts you have not connected with ahead of time at registration, receptions, breaks, or formal networking sessions.
5. Speakers usually allow time at the end of their presentations to talk with participants. If you do not have the opportunity to connect with a speaker on your list, send an email after the meeting to thank him for the presentation and ask any questions. Event committee members may also be targets contacts and usually have downtime during breaks or at the end of the meeting.
If you do not have the opportunity to meet them, send a follow up after the meeting asking if you can set up a time to talk. Vendors typically are located at tables or booths. They expect to network at meetings and are easy to approach and engage.
6. Put your networking plan into action. On the day of the meeting, arrive early and stay late to increase networking opportunities. Head towards the locations where you expect to find your networking targets and take the initiative to approach them and introduce yourself. Stay on script.
7. Focus on relationship building, not selling. Limit each conversation to five minutes and make a graceful exit. If you have a mutual interest with a contact, ask for a business card and say that you will follow up within one week. Jot notes and reminders on the back of business cards to use when you follow up. Continue to follow your networking action plan and work the room throughout the meeting.
Focus on areas where people congregate and take advantage of unexpected encounters. Introduce yourself to people sitting or standing near you during sessions or breaks. Be a connector and help make introductions between other participants.
8. At the end of the day, evaluate how effectively you implemented your networking plan and what results you achieved. How many of your target contacts did you make? Did your introduction break the ice and start a mutually beneficial conversation? Did the people you met express interest in continuing the conversation and accept a follow up call or meeting? Did you turn unexpected encounters into networking opportunities?
9. Keep your word and follow up with your contacts. Use the notes you wrote on the business cards you collected to provide requested information or ask relevant questions. Respond to any requests you receive promptly. If you are networking with a speaker or vendors, ask if you can be included on their mailing lists or newsletters.
10. Move your networking plan forward. Keep in touch with the contacts you made and extend the relationship beyond the context of the meeting or conference. As you build a relationship, ask your contacts if you can add them to a formal network like LinkedIn. Continue to refine and hone your networking plan and make it even sharper for your next business meeting.