It’s a damp Wednesday morning and you’ve been asked to attend a “networking” event and presentation at the other side of town. It’s with a group of business people you’ve not met before. The thought doesn’t exactly fill you with dread but you do have a resigned feeling of déjà vu.
The sat nav takes you to a 3 star hotel and reception direct you down the hall to a small conference room set out with a large screen, small table with perched laptop, spaghetti wiring a plenty, trestle table with coffee jugs, cups and a dozen round tables with brochures sprayed on them like confetti at a giants wedding.
The rhubarb, rhubarb murmuring of human interaction bounces around the room. Suits liberally scattered throughout with some sat at tables talking intently to an obvious work colleague asking when it might be “ok to leave”. Others are trying to look important by holding their phone up to their ear and nodding along with saying “yes but don’t go a pound under 50,000….” You suspect there’s no one on the other end of that call.
At the far end of the room, furthest from the stage you have the cynically subscribed. This is the group, like you, who have been told to attend but in all honesty would rather staple a post it note to their forehead with the word “bored” written on it in black ink. They look for fellow cynics and poke fun at the small turnout, quality of bacon bun and when it starts whatever the presenter says.
You survey this scene and eyes fall upon someone who is actually watching you. Before you can break eye contact they walk over and introduce themselves…too late you’re networking or are you?
Ok so I paint a rather dystopian view of a networking event but I guess we’ve all been there at some time, others more often than most. So what can be done about the obligatory networking opportunity and how can you make the time work for you?
The first point is possibly the hardest, especially if you’re not the boss and have been asked to attend. Be brave. Ask the obvious question before you access Google maps for the location. Ask why? Why this event?
This might be viewed as insubordination by insecure or controlling bosses or just the question you should be asking by the more enlightened. If it has been thought through as to why your company time should be spent at this particular gathering then you are about to be educated. On the other hand if it has not been considered it might be a weak attempt at ticking that “marketing” action on a personal development list. Maybe it was put forward as “one your competitors would be at” and “worth keeping an eye on” during the business development meeting you missed. Any way around there’s a chance you’ve drawn the short straw.
Why? is such an excellent question and we just don’t use it enough. We blindly go along with the flow not prepared to disturb the status quo or fear for our job if we dare to question an instruction. By simply accepting an instruction without question I would argue that we run the risk of wasting not only our own time but that of the business. If it is indeed an opportunity what is it and how can it be best maximised?
Quite often an event might look dull and lifeless but within it lies a key nugget; and no that’s not the chap who turned his back on the audience to read his PowerPoint word for word. It is the connection, piece of information, intelligence that can be gathered.
A little research before an event can prove invaluable. Who’s attending? Which companies? What level? Who are the speakers? What’s the key message they’re conveying? Once you have this data you can begin to build a picture and determine if it is an event that you should attend, only then do you have the “why?” answered.
It could be as simple as a key client will be presenting and you want to show them that you are interested in what they have to say and keep up to date with their thinking. If that’s the case let them know you’re there, ask a question but make it a positive and memorable one. Talk to them after the presentation and make sure they know who you are and where you’re from.
If travelling in numbers to an event have a plan. Decide who is doing what. One takes notes of the presentation, another is charged with connecting with the key decision makers but don’t stick together for mutual comfort, it will achieve far less. What can be beneficial is an introduction if your colleague is best suited to a connection made at the event, make sure they get to see them for themselves.
By undertaking research, planning and setting out key objectives your mind set for the event is clear. It’s amazing how an individual with this behind them can appear so much more purposeful and confident and ironically find themselves attracting others who wish to connect. Remember to keep the key objectives in mind, do not be distracted by time-wasters or the cynically subscribed.
7 Top Tips for Networking Events
- Ask Why? – Question the purpose of any directive to attend an event and gather enough information to set an objective.
- If you are deciding on the action to take – be protective of your time and commit to events only once you have fully assessed their worth to you and your business – see below.
- Research – Find out as much as you can about the event. Don’t be afraid to ask the organisers
- Key messages
- Identify colleagues/ contacts who may also benefit from attending, brief them.
- Plan a co-ordinated approach to your time at the event
- Note taking
- Contact acquiring
- Question asking
- Competitor analysis
- Social media interaction
- Follow up actions – de-brief internally for those who need to be aware, share notes and take actions as required.
- Review – were the objectives met? Learn from the experience and avoid the mistakes of the past and build on successes.
There are a variety of networking events. The broadly social with a hint of business “pub quiz” invite from your friendly accountant to the more commercially focussed and structured “we all know why we’re here” weekly gathering. All can have merit but none should be blindly accepted. A little time thinking, researching and planning can save you a fortune in wasted energy.