Networking is an essential activity for advancing a career, but not everyone knows how to utilize this tool effectively. The most successful professionals regularly take advantage of opportunities to meet and talk with other successful professionals.
This is because networking can offer several benefits in just about every field and business. Whether at local events or big industry conventions, networking can help you expand your resources and take the next step in your career.
When you attend these events, you get the chance to hear about new ideas and opportunities, as well as share your own. Networking broadens your professional circle, allowing you to create relationships that you can tap into for support throughout your career. The people you meet can often introduce you to others as well, widening your reach across the industry. Learn how to make the most of your networking events below.
Know Why You Are Going
Before you visit a networking event, it is beneficial to have an idea of what you want to get out of the experience. This will help you focus your efforts and avoid getting overwhelmed, especially if it is a large event. Decide what you want to achieve, whether it is meeting at least two new people in your industry, learning about a company you are not familiar with or finding a job lead. Once you solidify your networking goals, you can begin to prepare any questions or pitches.
Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
You will likely encounter many other professionals at your networking event, all with their own plans and goals. With so many people to meet, you may only have a few minutes to speak with those who are higher up in the industry. To ensure that you are able to get your goal and message across in that short time, it helps to have an elevator pitch ready.
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It is easy to ramble or get nervous in situations like this, but an elevator pitch can help you get your point across in an engaging and succinct way. A quick summary of what you do and what you have achieved, followed up with where you intend to go is more memorable than giving a rambling answer with few details.
Do Some Advance Research
Walking into a networking event where you do not know anyone can be intimidating. However, once you decide which people or companies you are interested in talking to, you can perform some research. Just like an elevator pitch, researching in advance prepares you to talk with people from the various companies and get right to the point. Having this knowledge on-hand can make you seem more impressive and help you guide the conversation easily.
To prepare, you can read recent press releases, visit websites and come up with a few questions to ask. People appreciate your interest, and everyone likes to talk about their company. Do not hesitate to ask about job opportunities when you meet someone from a company you are interested in, but be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of their company and what it does or stands for.
It is vital that you always dress in professional clothing at networking events. The best professional outfits are comfortable, polished and make you feel confident. They also give off the impression that you are taking the event, and your career, very seriously. This is the time to break out your power suit. Even in creative or more casual industries, dressing in a well-coordinated and appropriate outfit can help you stand out from the crowd and impress your peers.
Focus on Others
You may be tempted to launch into your well-rehearsed elevator pitch as soon as you meet someone at a networking event. However, this is often not the best approach to starting a productive conversation. When you are introduced to other networking professionals, it helps to them at ease by asking questions first.
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Let them tell you about themselves, and listen attentively while they speak. This ensures that they focus more on what you have to say when it is your turn to speak, since they are no longer planning what they want to say. It also lets them know you are engaged and interested in their work, and not just your own.
Traditional business cards are still widely exchanged at networking events. They are easy to carry around, and provide all the information needed to stay in touch. Custom cards can include details such as your website, social networking sites and other information to help you stand out. You can even include your photo, if appropriate. This helps others remember you and put face to the name later.
Once you have this information, you can use it to your advantage later on. One approach is to send brief emails to everyone you met after a networking event. Thank them for their time and mention briefly what you talked about to refresh their memories. Then, make plans to meet again or stay in contact online. You can also find them in online professional sites for an easy way to widen your professional network and stay in touch.
Make Yourself Useful
Sending a thank-you email and suggesting a future meeting are only the first steps after a networking event. It is also beneficial to follow up a month later, but make sure your emails are of value to the recipient. For example, you can send links to articles you think are of interest to those you met. When you plan to go to another event or attend a conference, let your new networking acquaintances know and suggest getting together outside of the event itself. If you make yourself valuable, your associates may return the favor.
Diversify Your Networking
Industry-specific networking events are a great start, but they do not have to be the only events you attend. This can cause you to miss out on other opportunities or limit your contact with potential clients. It helps to join groups for industries that are similar to yours. You can also get involved with educational initiatives, where you can meet people from across a multitude of professions. Join professional networking groups online to discover organizations and groups with members in similar fields you might not otherwise meet.
Practice and Refine
Networking events can be nerve-wracking, particularly if you are shy by nature. The first few events may be difficult, but over time you can refine your elevator pitch and become more comfortable meeting new people. As time goes on, you may meet more people you know from previous events who are happy to introduce you to new people. At the end of each networking event, make sure to evaluate what worked well for you and refine those techniques.
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