Have you ever gained new opportunities because of a connection from your network?
Networking isn’t just about meeting interesting people, it’s about connecting ideas with opportunities” says Matthijs Otto, founder of the company Krowden.
Matthijs has been in the events industry for over nine years now with the goal of improving the way people network and matchmake with each other for all types of events. Whether it’s executives at a trade show or buyers at a conference, making in-person connections has become even more crucial in this digital age.
While reaching out online may seem less daunting, personal face-to-face networking is a valuable skill to have if you are looking to build strong relationships with clients, investors and employees.
We invited Matthijs to Eventdex to share some of his experiences and what he has discovered to be the top tips for networking at any event.
- What is the goal?
Before even stepping into an event it’s important to ask yourself who you are looking to meet and why. This doesn’t have to be specific people, but it can definitely be broken down by industry or topic. Many event tools allow you to see who is attending, be sure to check it. See a company or person you’re interested in? Excellent – next check their profile for details of their LinkedIn profile and website. It always helps to be well informed before you bump into them at the event.
A mistake I made early on at events was wandering around aimlessly talking to anyone who would stop to listen. By having a goal I got five times as much done in half the time.
For example, let’s imagine you’re the owner of a successful marketing company. Your business could likely benefit from finding some collaborators for content, you reckon a good way to get these partnerships is to start building some in-person relationships and reach fresh audiences. In this scenario it would be beneficial to search for companies that would augment your own – video creators, press release companies and publishers are all ways you could expand your marketing collaborations.
- Know what you do.
You probably already know what you do. But can you explain to someone what you do in 15 seconds? It’s important to come prepared and have the key points that break down your company and what it can offer in as few words as possible. There might be thousands of conversations happening in one day, so you need to speak the language that people want to hear.
It’s just as important to mention what your company doesn’t do as much as what you do (so you’re on standby to offer opportunities). What are your USPs? What makes you stand out?
While it’s important to have your pitch down to 2-3 sentences, remember to keep it flexible. Not everyone needs to hear everything about what you do, just the parts that are relevant to them. Detail can come later, keeping it vague helps you to gauge people’s genuine interest and openness to opportunities.
When you know everything you need to know you’ll be able to answer any question like it was written on the back of your hand.
If you have a team – preparation also means you should all be talking the same language (make sure you are describing what you want to talk about in the same way) and combine your efforts.
- Ask about what they do.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you,” – Dale Carnegie.
This is one of my favourite tips because it is as simple as letting them speak. Set up some open questions that people are almost always dying to talk about. A good place to start is is “what projects are you working on at the moment at your company?” Be sure to listen and respond to the points they raise, double points if they are experiencing the same problems as you. Or perhaps you can offer a solution.
It’s a great idea to have some conversation starters that you can use to get the ball rolling with anyone. This is where your pre-event research from earlier comes in. It’s always good to be up to speed on what is happening in your industry so you can discuss any big news.
There are also some do’s and don’t of any professional conversation. For example, be sure to bring up any information you have gleaned beforehand naturally, don’t just throw facts you know at them for 10 minutes.
- Look for mutually beneficial partnerships.
The fantasy of events is securing meaningful exchanges that result in great things for your career or business. Whether it’s a new deal, partnership, job offer, client, or investor – it isn’t going to come to you, you have to find it.
The good thing is that everyone is doing the same as you. Looking for opportunities for their strengths, and offers for their weaknesses. Be on the lookout for where you can solve people’s problems in a way that helps everyone. The research from earlier will give you a good idea of what business might complement your own, but it’s unlikely to give you specific insight into what people are looking for at that moment in time. You can only find that out by talking to them. There are some collaborations that seem perfect on paper, but it might not be what they need at the moment. Be sure to take their contact information for later.
Be confident in the areas where you know you can offer value, but keep in mind everyone is looking for a partnership that brings both sides up.
- Bring business cards.
A big mistake I have seen time and time again is hastily scribbled email addresses or promises to connect that never result in anything. A sure way to add some structure to the whole affair is by making sure you bring something you can physically hand to people. It gets them engaged, and at the end of the conference, it’s something they can use to get in contact with you in an efficient way.
I mention this because I also see many people giving away their last business card early in the day. Always bring more than you think you’ll need and keep them somewhere they won’t get crumpled in your bag.
If you’re giving or receiving business cards it is also a great way to organize your notes. You can write down extra information about what you talked about on the back just before you give away your cards and vice versa
- Follow up.
This might be the tip that has the biggest impact on your networking, at the same time it seems to be the tip that is followed the least.
A few days after the event, take your notes or stack of collected business cards and make sure to write a follow-up email to each person. It should be personalised and let them know that you enjoyed meeting with them while also bringing up something that you discussed.
This is important not just so that you don’t forget, but so that they don’t either.
Then what is the next date? Always have the next thing in mind. Maybe some conversations went nowhere, but with the other 80% of them, set up the next date. Perhaps it’s a meeting or quick call to continue the discussion. Without the plan for the next meeting any relationship you have started to build starts to falter.
Networking isn’t just one of the best tools in the event industry. It’s an immensely useful part of all professional life. Planning on attending a networking event soon?
Remember – you get out of it what you put in.
Matthijs Otto is the founder and CEO of Krowden (formerly NetworkTables), an events networking solution company. NetworkTables offers tools and applications for event organizers to meet the right person and the right time during trade shows, conferences, webinars, and buyer/seller meetings. To email: firstname.lastname@example.org