You've got a networking event approaching. Over the course of an hour or two you will have the opportunity to mix, mingle and make connections. But are you ready? Networking comes easy for some, for others it is a terrifying experience. How can you maximize the benefit and minimize the pain? Here are a few simple steps you can take to get the most out of your event, before, during and after.
Research. If the event is a panel discussion or presentation, learn as much as you can about the backgrounds of the guests and their points of view. If an author is speaking, familiarize yourself with their work. If it is a straight up networking event see if there is an attendee list. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to start. Write down a few notes and know the guests' twitter handles and event hashtags. Be ready with questions and points to discuss.
Post. Update your LinkedIn profile the day before or the morning of the event. Let your connections know you are attending and provide a link to the event site so they can learn more. Tweet about the event in advance and post the twitter handles of the special guests. Hashtag appropriately. Write a quick blog post about the event and what your thoughts are. These are all great ways to make new connections with other like-minded people in advance of the event.
Know your story. Have your elevator pitch down. Feel comfortable with it and own it. You may only get a few seconds to speak with some people so be prepared to tell them who you are and what you are great at. Always keep your story positive and never bad mouth former colleagues or companies.
Business Cards. Vistaprint, Zazzle and Moo are all sites that can create great looking cards for a good price. Your name, number, email and social handles are all you need. Keep them in your pocket and only offer them when asked. Nobody likes the guy who comes armed with business cards.
Be confident. You've done your research. You have your story down. Networking CAN be fun. Relax, smile, say hello and introduce yourself to someone.
Post. If this is a panel discussion or presentation take a few pictures and write down important points and quotes. Share with your twitter followers and follow the event hashtag stream. You will see who else is live tweeting and can make a note to connect after the presentation. Favorite a few tweets and retweet the really great ones. This is another way to follow smart people and find quality followers in social media.
Listen. This is hugely important. Introduce yourself and then let the other folks talk. People love to speak about what they do and you can make great connections just by listening. Don't look around the room. Focus on the person with whom you are speaking. Ask questions and find out how you can help them. Use the right moments to offer your expertise and experience
Keep it brief. Don't monopolize people. Take a few minutes per person and politely move on. Let the conversation dictate a natural out. Say thank you, ask if you can connect later and get their card. Don't offer your card unless they ask.
Follow up. Write a quick hello the next day to the people you met. Make an effort to write to EVERYONE you met. Networking is about broadening your circle and you need to cast your net wide. Remind them of something you spoke about and suggest a further opportunity to connect. If it feels appropriate connect on LinkedIn with some of the people you met.
Post. Tweet about the event and maybe even give a shout out to the folks you met. Say thank you to the hosts and sponsors. A quick LinkedIn update addressing both how much you liked the event and how much you are looking forward to the next one can also be a great touch.
Blog. Write a quick summary of the event. Use the notes and pictures you took to add to your thoughts. Use your social channels to share the post. Check out this post I wrote about the NJ Tech Meetup.
Not every event will result in great connections, but you will gain experience and confidence in networking. Find events and get out there. It's all about action and forward motion. Job hunting is a numbers game and the more people you meet, the more opportunity you will have to get closer to the job you want. Good luck!