We’ve heard it a hundred times – networking is key to professional success. But networking is more than just “meeting people.” Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be featuring posts specifically about networking events – receptions, happy hours, and the like. We all know to dress appropriately and bring business cards, but how can you otherwise prepare for a networking event? Check out these 5 tips to make sure you’re ready to get the most out of the experience and avoid making embarrassing mistakes.
1. Search for Photos: You’re standing in line at the refreshments table, introduce yourself to the woman behind you, and ask where she works. Turns out, she’s the keynote speaker for the event. Always look at the photos of the hosts/speakers in advance. The magical internet is great for this sort of thing, and people will be impressed that you know who they are when you meet them. Want to go the extra mile? Learn one key fact about that person’s company or area of interest. That way you’ll have something to say beyond “oh sure, you work at ABC Company -um, how do you like that?” If you know they recently merged with another company, or that they got great press coverage in TIME magazine that week, you’ll be prepared to engage in a much more high level conversation.
2. Set Networking Goals: It’s easy to go to 2-3 networking events a week but not actually get anything concrete out of them. One idea is to see who’s attending and identify at least one person who you want to be sure to connect with. Think about emailing them in advance or tweeting them: “@awesomeperson: saw you were going to the #awesometopic event – hope we can chat about your org there, I’d love to learn more about what you do!” In any case, be sure you have at least one specific and measurable goal in mind for when you attend.
3. Check the News: “President Obama gave a speech last night?” Keeping up with the news can be exhausting, and the truth is that you’ll never be able to consume it all. But you do need to have some idea of what the major headlines of the day are. If the event you’re attending is centered around a specific topic, be sure to read a few recent articles about it in advance. One way to do this is to use Instapaper – sign up for a free account as soon as you register for the event. This tool allows you to “bookmark” all the articles that come up in your google alerts or google reader about that topic, and then read them the day of.
4. Invite a Friend: This can be a good safety net as networking events can be a little scary. A caveat: do not invite a friend you haven’t seen in 6 months. You’ll inevitably end up playing catch up and not meeting other people. See if you have a friend or two who are equally interested in the topic and send them an invite to the event a few days in advance. We’ll talk next week about how to make the most of the buddy-system at an event.
5. Review the Logistics: Don’t wait til the last minute to find out where the event is being held only to realize that it’s actually all the way across town during rush hour. Another thing to take note of is whether you need to RSVP or register for the event in advance. If there’s a limit to the number of attendees, it’s better to be on the list earlier rather than later.
Networking events are a dime a dozen, particularly in big cities. A little planning in advance will go a long way in ensuring that you’re able to make the most of the opportunity. What else do you do to prepare for these kinds of networking events?