Summer is a great time to network, whether you’re attending a conference, a meeting of an industry organization or happy hour at a local watering hole or private club.
However, no matter how many networking occasions you’ve been to, don’t just saunter in without a game plan, fly by the seat of your pants and down a bunch of drinks. Even the most seasoned professional can use a refresher course on how to get the most out of an industry conference and other networking events from time to time.
1. Do your homework before you arrive
It’s best to have a plan of attack before you go to an industry conference or another type of networking event, rather than trying to figure it out as you go.
Do a little research to determine the target audience and the highest-value potential encounters. Who are you likely to meet there? If it’s a conference, are there specific companies you want to connect with? What do you want to gain from them?
“I like to look at the speaker list first,” Melanie Marshak, a managing director in the financial services division at the Execu|Search Group. “Target the people you want to meet and make a list of people you want to look for.”
2. Bring a box of business cards and a pen
“Even though everything is electronic these days, go in with plenty of business cards, hand out a bunch of them and bring a pen to make a note of who that person is when you receive a business card,” Marshak said. “It can be hard to remember details about the people you’ve met after bringing a stack of cards back to the office several days later.”
Also, make sure your social-media profiles are up-to-date.
“A lot of time people lose your business card or they want to see who they spoke to and may ask to connect via social media,” she said.
3. Get there early and stay late
Make sure you get to the event early. “It’s much easier to strategize about who you want to meet with when the morning coffee is first served rather than walking up to a sea of people who are already having conversations when a keynote address or panel is about to start,” Marshak said. “Also, leave late.”
4. Ask good questions and be a good listener
The best way to gain a new contact is to ask something that spurs memorable conversation.
“First, introduce yourself and tell them about you and why you chose to come here today,” said Rebecca Dappen, managing partner at Lucas Group. “Then ask them an interesting question: ‘What’s most interesting to you in our industry, your life, your job or our economy today?
“My personal favorite: ‘What’s the best thing happening in your life today?’” she said. “Avoid general or fluff questions.”
Go up to particular crowds of people in-between sessions, just before or after lunch and during the cocktail hour.
“Either you know someone in the group, or you recognize a speaker or panelist and say, ‘I just saw you speak at the last session, would you mind if I ask you a follow-up question or two?’ or ‘I missed the session, do you have a moment to meet later?’”
5. Define your perfect network
One big mistake people make when networking is not knowing what they want. Maggie Mistal, career consultant and executive coach, suggests going through a three-step process: soul search, research and job search.
“That process supports them in understanding who they are and what they most want from their careers,” Mistal said. “This helps them identify whom they most want to network with – and with social media, it’s easier now more than ever to connect with the right people.”
It’s important to be able to articulate the type of role, the type of company and the type of culture you want to work within.
6. Relax – be professional but don’t talk shop all the time
Don’t appear overanxious. You don’t want to send out the vibe of “OMG, I have to meet you” or, worse, launch into a sales pitch 10 seconds after meeting someone.
“Be very casual, almost like you’re attending a dinner party,” Marshak said. “The conversation doesn’t have to start off with business, or job hunting, or ‘I’m looking for X.'"
7. Be memorable
Too often people leave out important details when telling their career stories. They downplay successes because they don’t want to brag or they’re too busy recounting their hard skills to share the heartfelt reason they have this career aspiration in the first place, Mistal said.
“I’ve uncovered a powerful secret – the elevator pitch with the personal touch,” she said. “It will not only make it easier for you to create your pitch, but it will also make it easier for others to remember you.”
In every case, it is the personal details that stick in people’s mind after a pitch, not your litany of qualifications but your personal story.
“Get personal and you won’t just make a pitch, you’ll make real connections,” Mistal said.
8. Make your rounds, mixing and mingling
Don’t spend too much time talking to one person; rather, work your way from one group to another during coffee breaks and cocktail hours, introducing yourself and exchanging cards. The idea is to cast as wide a net as possible.
“Don’t spend a long time with any single person,” Marshak said. “Weave in and out of groups to maximize the number of people you talk to – don’t come back from the conference saying you didn’t get to speak with everyone you wanted to.”
9. Don’t forget to follow up after the dust settles
After you leave the conference or other networking event, make sure you follow up via email a day or two later.
“Say, ‘I really enjoyed speaking about XYZ – are you available for further conversation over the phone or a follow-up meeting?’” Marshak said. “Use the notes you wrote on the back of their business card to personalize the email as much as possible.”
Photo credit:Tom Merton/ Getty Images