You registered for next week’s networking event. You added the event to your calendar. You’re excited to attend and meet fellow professionals.

But how do you approach networking in a way that maximizes the time and money you’re investing in the event? What steps can you take to increase your return on that investment? How can you use each networking event to enhance your reputation in the business community?

Here are six tips that can help you extract every available ounce of value from every networking event you attend!

 1) Create a Game Plan

It’s not uncommon for professionals to show up at an event and walk around for two hours, hoping to bump into someone who might be a solid referral partner, collaboration partner, vendor, or client. In this scenario, success is based on hope and luck.

As with any business endeavor, preparation and planning produce better results than hope and luck. What types of professionals would be good introductions? Senior executives? Attorneys? Marketing service providers? Trades? Know who you want to meet in advance and look for them in the room. Tell others who you want to meet so they can make introductions.

You can also see if an attendee list is available before or after the event and ask event organizers to connect you with people you’re looking to meet.

2) Look for Connections, Not Sales

The goal of networking is not to close sales or empty your box of business cards. People don’t go to networking events to hear sales pitches. Experienced networkers view networking events as opportunities to make meaningful connections and build on existing relationships.

Spend time getting to know the people you meet. Ask thoughtful questions. Find out how you can help people. You may find that a person who isn’t on your list of ideal connections turns out to be a great connection for reasons you hadn’t considered!

Even speed networking events, which are designed to facilitate as many introductions as possible, are most successful when the goal is to identify professionals who would be good connections. That’s the first step to building mutually beneficial, and mutually profitable, relationships.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with offering your products and services to people who need what you provide! You’re just more likely to build long-term value from networking when you actively seek connections, not sales.

3) Perfect Your Presentation

Since networking does not equal selling, think about how you can convert the traditional 30-second elevator pitch into a presentation of value.

Beyond your name, company, and title, explain how you solve problems, fill specific needs, or make people’s lives better. Be prepared with brief success stories that provide real-world affirmation. Give people a sense of what it’s like to work with you and, more importantly, what it feels like to experience the results of working with you.

You’ll probably deliver this presentation many times over the course of a networking event. Practice in advance, but remain flexible enough to adapt as needed.

 4) Listen More and Let the Conversation Flow

It can be tempting to go on and on about yourself and your company when you meet someone who matches the profile of your ideal client. However, this is when listening becomes even more important.

When you spend more time listening, you show that you’re interested in learning about and helping others. Listening allows the conversation to flow more naturally, which is far more productive than alternating sales pitches.

This is how you build the kinds of connections we discussed earlier! And it may even help you close a sale in the right situation.

 5) Be Yourself

If you want to build relationships with people who are not only ideal connections but also align with your values, be yourself!

People can see and sense authenticity. They can feel it. They’re drawn to it. They’re more comfortable working with and referring people who are authentic.

Authenticity on both sides helps you quickly determine who will be a good connection. It will also show you who might not be the best connection, at least in terms of referring business, and that’s okay, too!

 6) Follow Up

Networking doesn’t stop when you leave an event! Just like you follow up with sales leads, follow up with new networking connections within 24 hours of the event.

Send an email with a little nugget that shows you were listening. Send invitations to connect on LinkedIn with a note that reminds them of how you met and what you discussed. LinkedIn even provides each user with a QR code that allows you to connect on the spot.

The next step depends on the individual and the conversation. If the person is a potential client, collaboration partner, or referral partner, meet for coffee or schedule a Zoom. In some cases, connecting on LinkedIn to stay on each other’s radars is sufficient.

The most important thing to remember that every person you meet is an opportunity to expand your network to that individual’s connections, and vice versa!

 The Princeton-Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts networking events, conferences, panel discussions, awards dinners, and more that give you opportunities to apply the insights discussed here. Check out our calendar of events and contact us at the Chamber if you’d like help connecting!

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