Event Planners need to be many things, and one of the many hats they wear should be networking. Most planners are the face their business and so it is important to have a promotional balance in the digital space, particularly social media, and in real life.
In person networking is valuable because it gives you the opportunity to read body language and learn about someone. Case in point, I hate it when I’m at a networking event and someone walks up to me, reads my name tag and says “So – Jessica – how’s business?”
For starters, that approach doesn’t create a feeling of interaction. Something as basic as asking someone’s name is important. Instead, that person just read my name tag and expected me to share information with them. What if I was filling in for my coworker and my name was actually Lindsey, but I took the pre-printed tag anyway? (It’s happened before.) The other side of that is I think it’s safe to say that most of us do not want to tell a complete stranger if business isn’t going well. Which is why I tend to skip that part. Instead I want to learn about the person, their business and why he or she is there in the first place. So next time you go to a networking event, consider these 5 steps:
1. Prepare Ahead of Time
This is not a homework assignment per se, but many of us just show up to a networking event, grab a drink to loosen up and hope for the best. But that approach isn’t effective for you or anyone you’re about to talk to. The goal of networking should be to swap business cards with good connections, not just potential clients. The assumption that the only person you should get a card from is a potential client shuts out possible partnerships or contacts who may be relevant down the road or lead to future opportunities. So before you go, think about what type of networking event it is and consider who will be there, the kinds of people you would like to meet and what you feel would make a useful result of your time. This will set you up to pursue the right attendees and ask the right questions.
2. Start Easy & Be Yourself
There’s nothing worse than a scripted person on a loop. You heard their elevator speech when they were talking to the person standing next you and like a robot they walk up to you and say the exact same thing. Yes, we’d all like to make our way through the room, but just breathe for a second and seem like you’re actually interested. I understand why people do it: because talking to strangers is hard. I admit, sometimes I don’t even rush to an event from work hoping to get there about an hour in because I know everyone has managed to get at least 2 drinks in them and has had a chance to break the ice with other people, making them easier to talk to. But that’s not a solution all of the time. So start simple. Trivial as it may seem, ask someone their name, about the company they work for and about their role at the company. This is a quick way to gain information to find out how you may or may not be a fit. I often ask what a typical day is like and make a point to ask pointed questions regarding aspects of their work I genuinely find interesting. Not only are you engaging the person you are speaking to, but they will be much more responsive, which can open up to a variety of different types of partnerships.
3. Ask Casual Questions, Too
When someone is describing their company and a “day in their life”, I ask them how they got to their current job. “Well, actually I was an accounting major who ended up getting a job at an IT company. Our clients were in the medical device industry and after years of a good relationship, they asked me to join their client sales team.” So. Much. Info here. Not only can you find out their interests, but now you know the industries they are familiar with and where they may have connections. Here’s the point where you can learn about a person’s interests and find out if they are passionate about their work. Maybe you connect over a love of puppies or realize you have mutual interest in an obscure subject. Asking casual questions make it easier for someone to open up and talk not just about their company and their job, but also about who they are connected to.
4. Be Willing to Connect People to Someone Other Than Yourself
One of my previous bosses taught me that in sales, we need to be a resource. He would always say “We aren’t selling to people, we are providing them with a solution.” That always stuck with me because I think it’s a great way to look at what you do in any field. When you are genuine and get to know a person’s needs, you can provide a possible solution. At networking events, I always ask people who they’d like to meet and who they see as an ideal client – essentially “Why are you here?” Perhaps I’m not who they are looking to meet but maybe I know someone else who is. I myself enjoy connecting people. I also understand that this widens your network and creates value. I don’t ever try to make a sale for someone, but I will share an opportunity for that person to meet someone and see if the connection makes sense for them. If nothing else, by connecting people, even when it is not directly related to me, puts me in front of someone and reminds them that I have value not only as a skilled event planner & blogger, but also as an influential member of community.
5. Follow Up
For god’s sake people, follow up. Did you get a business card? Add them to your LinkedIn, send them a “Nice to Meet You” email. Something! I actually carve out time the morning after a networking event specifically for this. Even if you have a general format to your emails, be sure to include personal details that not only show interest but also give you a nice reminder about that person. For example, “It was nice to meet you yesterday! I know that you are new to the city and love Korean BBQ so here are a few of my favorites…”
Again, show you are a valuable resource. Yes, follow ups can actually be time consuming but why bother going anywhere, especially when you (or your company) is paying to go to a networking event, if you aren’t going to do anything with it anyway? Putting in your full effort is how you get the best results!