7 Things to Maximize Your Return on Networking Events

Networking photo from ShutterstockLast week, I focused on the 5 Things You Need to Stop Doing Now to Make Strong Connections in 2015.  This week, I’m focusing on you busy professionals who are challenged by making time and maximizing the networking events you attend.

1. Build the conversation

A conversation can get rather dry if you don’t know what to say. Past the general pleasantries, you need to keep the conversation going. A good starting point is the other person’s interests so ask questions. Given an opportunity, few would turn down the chance to talk about themselves. Have a list of questions prepared beforehand so you can keep the conversation flowing.

The objective of having questions prepared is to provide direction to your conversation while also freeing you up to really listen to their responses.

2. Cut down on obligations

As a professional, you most likely are involved in a professional association related to your field. These associations enable you to meet industry and thought leaders, as well as peers from whom you can learn and bounce ideas. However, don’t join an association or group just for the sake. Take a cold hard look at the meetings you have attended and ask yourself, “Did I benefit from it? Was it worth the time and effort? Did I meet people who could be valuable to my career?”

While a single meeting can’t help you answer all these questions, since it takes time to nurture relationships and share information, after six months or so, you should be able to get a sense of whether the association is worth the effort. Don’t renew membership hoping things will change.

3. Meet more people at a single time

Get together as a group, rather than one-on-one meetings. The benefit to doing so is that you get to share with more people at the same time. Consider having after-work drinks where you invite some of your connections from the industry and introduce them to each other. You will be helping someone make a new connection, and in return, they will remember you as one who shares connections. They will be more likely to introduce you to their own circles, and voila, an opportunity to make new connections!

4. Make genuine connections

Networks are much stronger if the relationship between the members is genuine and real. It takes real commitment to be genuinely interested in the other person. People are more willing to go the extra mile for those they genuinely care about and have formed strong bonds with. You must be willing to be sincere if you expect them to do so with you. Being honest and genuine in concern with your connections is crucial to making the most of your networking efforts.

5. Participate in social events

Conferences, meetings and seminars are good places to start networking. A mistake that people make when trying to network is being passive at such events, especially if they think other activities on their schedules are more important or have limited time. By attending and participating, you make it easier for potential connections to see and remember you. This makes the next step of introductions and starting the relationship much easier to navigate. By participating, you learn from others’ opinions and thoughts as well.

As you build a base of connections, you can move away from social events and make networking intentional. [tweet this]

Rather than wait for the next event to meet someone, reach out intentionally to your list of connections and interact with them online. Respond to their blogs, comment on their tweets, and so on. If you are someone they benefit from knowing, they will have no problem appreciating your efforts and even introducing you to their networks should you ask.

6. Try to have fun

You may only have a few hours a week to network, so make them the most fun hours of the week. Instead of being all business, have fun and get to genuinely know the other person. Talk about the stuff that interests you, and ask questions that you validly want answers to. Find common ground and build on that.

7. Make good on follow-ups

Not everyone you meet will warrant a follow-up, but for those people where you feel you could be of benefit to them, make the effort to follow up. Perhaps when you were networking someone voiced a need or a concern they had that you could help them with by following up with information or assistance. Or, refer them to someone who can make use of their services. Following up is crucial if you are to build mutually beneficial relationships.