Professional networking events: Strategies for maximizing your ROI
We all know that our networks are critical to professional success. They provide us with news, leads, support, information, and opportunities for advancement. That’s why in just 14 short years, LinkedIn became the world’s largest professional networking site. More than 400 million professionals use it—because what could be easier than filling out your profile, uploading your contact list, and then watching your network grow day by day?
However, while online networking is relatively fast and easy, it doesn’t guarantee strong connections. In fact, many people have hundreds of contacts, but have only ever really interacted with a small number of them. In contrast, old-fashioned, in-person networking allows you to make a lasting impression and often provides a solid foundation for a strong professional relationship.
That’s why it’s important to attend alumni evenings, Chamber of Commerce events, and professional association conferences. Of course, it’s an investment of your time and energy—and that’s precisely why you need to know how to maximize your ROI. In short, you need to strategize ahead of time how to best meet your networking goals.
The first thing to do is to determine what your objective is. Do you want to hand out a bunch of business cards? Is there a specific person you want to connect with? Or do you want to showcase your expertise?
Once you know your objective, it’s time to prepare. If you’re looking to introduce yourself to a lot of people, make sure you have up to date business cards, both in print and digital format. Then practice pitching yourself in less than a minute—a short version of an elevator pitch that you can repeat every time you shake someone’s hand. If you’re looking to connect with a specific person, take some time to research him or her. Find out what you have in common, and figure out a way to start a conversation and establish rapport. After that, you can give your elevator pitch and ask if you can follow up by email. Don’t make the mistake of monopolizing anyone’s attention, since everyone is there to network. If you want to showcase your expertise, make sure that your online presence is flawless, and prepare some conversation starters that lead into the subject of your choice.
In his Fortune article titled “How to get the most out of a networking event,” Ulrik Bo Larsen encourages knowing what you can offer. A meaningful professional relationship is one that’s a win-win for both parties. Can you offer information, services, a professional reference, or something else that could benefit this person and his or her company?
At the event, you should minimize distractions, according to Anna Hensel in the Inc. article “3 Expert Networking Tips for Introverts.” Turn off the notifications on your phone, and refrain from looking at your watch or over the other person’s shoulder—this could be interpreted as impolite and a lack of interest. If you’re easily distracted, try to position yourself so you’re looking toward a wall instead of into the crowded room or hallway.
When you get home after the event, make a note of the people you met and what you discussed. Then connect with them on LinkedIn and send each one a personalized message—never a generic one. Finally, make sure to regularly keep in touch with your contacts. It’s better to have a small network of strong connections than a large one of people you don’t know.
In-person networking costs time and energy. However, with the right strategy, you can maximize your ROI and build a strong, extensive network.
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