Strap yourself in, it’s networking season again. You have your tickets to 4YFN and the Mobile World Congress (if not, what are you waiting for?!), your business cards are printed and your shoes are nicely polished. But what’s next?
Networking events are fantastic places to meet fellow entrepreneurs, make connections and do business, but they are often quite hard to navigate – especially for first timers.
We all know we’re meant to avoid too much alcohol and try and remember people’s names, but what are the other keys to a successful networking event? Here are 7 hacks that will help you make a splash at this year’s events.
Remember, it’s all about smart networking
To the naked eye, a networking event is a chaotic, high energy shindig, full of sharply dressed pros doing a strange, slow dance of meet, greet and move on. And it can be intimidating. Many first-time networkers will grab a glass of wine, take a deep breath and attach themselves to another newbie, only to watch as the night buzzes around them and the connection opportunities slip away faster than the best and cheesiest volovants.
No-one wants that. So it’s important to have an agenda. Harsh though it may sound, if you find yourself in a conversation that you can’t add value to or doesn’t meet your needs, politely disengage and move on. Don’t feel guilty about it, we’re all in the same boat, afterall.
Get ahead of the game
If you are serious about smart networking, do your best to connect with attendees ahead of time. Do some research online and find out who’s going to be there too.
It’s easy peasy if you want to talk to companies that are exhibiting – just shoot them an email. But if you’re more interested in talking to individuals, search for popular event hashtags (e.g. #4YFN18 or #MWC18) and send people some connection requests and a note to let them know you want to meet.
Even better, if you’re in any Facebook or LinkedIn business groups, you have a Twitter presence, etc. let people know you’re going and say you are keen to catch up. Explain who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for to help people decide whether you are a good contact for them.
Or let 4YFN do the hard work for you
This brings me on to the super useful (and free) 4YFN Networking App. It lets you connect with other attendees and introduce yourself. You’ll be able to set up meetings before, during or even after the event.
Use your most important communication tools
It’s not how big your ears are, it’s what you do with them that counts. Experienced networkers will tell you that listening is far more valuable than speaking at a networking event.
First of all, get to know the person, not just their business. Where are they from? Why did they attend? Who are they with? What do they need? Ask questions and take a real interest – even making introductions to other people you’ve met during the course of the event can be highly effective. Don’t just pitch your service: if you make real connections, help people out, and add value, you’ll see the dividends.
Embrace the awkwardness
As much as I love networking, it’s definitely sometimes a little dizzying. When you’re confronted by a sea of strangers, it’s important to find your confidence. Simply walk up and introduce yourself – they’re bound to welcome you into the conversation. On the other hand, if you see someone looking lost, bring them in from the cold and get chatting to them. They’ll definitely be grateful and you never know who you’ll meet.
A quick tip: if you have pre-arranged to meet people, it’s a good idea to do so early on, so you can break the ice and get talking right away.
Don’t go it alone
It can be an excellent idea to take a colleague, business partner or other representative along with you to the event, especially if it doesn’t incur many extra costs. Not only will you be able to cover more ground, but you can talk to each other, compare notes, and relax knowing that you won’t ever have to stand uncomfortably in the corner, nervously clutching your cava.
Avoid speaking to your partner all night long, however, as this won’t do you any good and it could make you look cliquey to outsiders.
What happens during a networking event is a lot less important than what happens after. So gather up all the business cards you collected and follow up with the people you met.
Strike while the iron’s hot. If you really want to work with someone, arrange a meeting while they still remember you and are keen. That said, it’s important not to be too pushy; adding people to your mailing list without their permission is not cool, nor is getting their names wrong: it happens and it undoes all that good will you built up.
I hope to catch you at the High Five event on the 27th, which is open to everyone registered for 4YFN and I’ll certainly be attending some of the free networking drinks, which are happening every day from 18:00 to 20:00.
Finally, check out the 4YFN social programme and make sure you plan ahead. It’s going to be epic.