Are you someone who loves networking events or does the mere mention of an “Expo Hall” send social anxiety shivers up and down your spine?
Regardless of whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, if you’re a small business owner, in-person networking events and conferences can be strong opportunities to represent your brand, make new connections and grow your business.
Benefits of in-person networking events:
- Learn new best practices
- Meet new people and make new connections
- See what competitors or other folks in your industry are doing
- Practice and perfect your elevator pitch and networking skills
- Get inspired
- Have fun!
Downsides of in-person networking events:
- Costs of travel, hotel, etc.
- Big time commitment
- Content may or may not be especially relevant or helpful
- Inconvenient (depending on location)
- Unsure if attending will really add value or not
In this post, we’re focusing on how to make the most out of in-person networking events. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you pack your suitcase and set that OOO reply.
“Should I even go to this networking event?”
Step one is deciding if it’s even worth the time and money necessary to attend the event. Spending a few days away from your business might cause stress or even affect your operations, so it’s important to decide if attending an event is even worth the investment. Consider who you might meet there, how far away the event is, how much it will cost and what opportunities might pop up as a result of your attending.
“What do I want to get out of this event?”
It’s important to have clear goals defined beforehand. Why are you attending this event? Is it to meet specific industry leaders or possible new customers? Do you want to land a new deal or just get the email address of a particular speaker? Is there a topic you want to learn more about?
Set clear goals for yourself so you can set up a strategy to make the trip worthwhile.
Some goals might look or sound like:
- Connect with a person in the Finance department of Company X
- Talk to three prospective new employees
- Get 50 new people to sign up for our newsletter list
- Be invited to speak at a different upcoming event
“How can I make the most out of this event?”
One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the most out of your attendance, is by planning your trip well in advance. Just about every conference these days has a detailed website that lists out the schedule, as well as many sponsors, speakers, vendors and attendees.
Plan Your Days: Plan out your agenda day-by-day and make sure you are going to the sessions that align best with your curiosity and goals for the event. Confirm the location of the event(s) and see if you need to rent a car or how logistics might work.
Use Social Media: Check to see if there’s a hashtag for the event and search on Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media platforms to see who else is going from your industry. Does anyone specifically look interesting or like they might be a great future client or collaborator? Reach out and see if they want to meet up!
Consider Becoming a Sponsor or Speaker at the Event: Sometimes fairly affordable sponsorship opportunities are available at events (especially if it’s sort of last-minute). See if there’s an affordable option that makes sense from a marketing perspective; maybe your company could sponsor a signature cocktail at the welcome happy hour. It might be a good way to gain access to a marketing email list or even just a unique way to be introduced to others.
“Ugh, I’m tired from traveling. Do I really have to go to the happy hours?”
I mean, no. But also yes. Oftentimes the less structured events at the conferences end up being the most fun with the least pressure. Even if you don’t drink, happy hours are where people who really want to talk and connect go. So while it’s easy to back out if you feel tired or overwhelmed, it can be a great opportunity to connect with folks on a more personal level.
“I’m not very social or extroverted. How do I approach someone non-awkwardly at a networking event?”
Don’t overthink it - just be friendly! You can either comment on something around you, “Oh, this looks like a really great buffet!” or just start out cold, “Hi there! I’m so-and-so from so-and-so.” Everyone is there for the same reason: to meet new people. Everyone feels a little awkward. It’s ok. Just introduce yourself, give them your card (if you have one) and share a one-line elevator pitch about your company. Then ask them about their work, lives and company. Easy peasy.
Make sure if you are attending an event with colleagues or friends, you don’t just cling to them the whole time. It’s important to venture off on your own and meet other people.
“The event is over. Now what do I do?”
Create a follow-up plan to implement post-event. Maybe that’s emailing folks you met and trying to set up some sales calls. Maybe it’s synthesizing all the great new information you learned and either training your team or putting together content of your own to share on your company’s social media channels. Maybe it’s sendinging some new LinkedIn requests.
Whatever if it is, make sure you look at your goals and see if you accomplished what you set out to do. Was it worth going? Would you go again next year?
What are some other tips you have for maximizing your valuable time as a business owner at networking events? How can you make sure you’re staying on-task and getting what you need out of the experience?