Regardless of your age or profession, you cannot escape the importance that networking plays in defining modern-day career success. While older professionals may claim that they have developed their career to date without adopting aggressive networking practices, changes to the way in which employers evaluate and recruit candidates for work mean that these are now increasingly important.
This applies to both virtual and physical networking practices, which are known to deliver a return in terms of human and monetary capital. By targeting relevant networks online and attending physical meetings and events, it is possible to cultivate a strong presence among your peers and earn new business contracts.
A 5-Step Plan for impressing your Peers at Networking Events
With this in mind, here is a five-step plan for successfully targeting relevant networking events and impressing your fellow attendees:
1. Thoroughly Research Relevant Events and Establish Specific Goals
If you are determined to make an impression, it is imperative that you prepare fully and establish event-specific goals prior to attending. This is because not all events are created equal, and while some may not be relevant to your service others may be aimed at a niche demographic of attendees.
Fortunately, you can use LinkedIn to search for relevant events, either through your own contacts or groups or by perusing a comprehensive list of open communities on the site. From here, you can review the description of the event and research individual members, while also reviewing the topics that tend to be discussed both online and at physical network meetings. If you want to conduct a more comprehensive search, you can also follow any event-specific hashtags on Twitter and connect with some of the listed attendees.
With a clear understanding of an event, its purpose and regular attendees, you can begin to establish event specific goals and identify the people that will help you to achieve them. Prioritise the people that you want to connect with based on their role and level of influence, before preparing topics for discussion that can provide an entry point into a longer-term relationship.
2. Establish your Presence as a Thought Leader
Attempting to network successfully should be a long-term goal, and it may require significant time and effort to achieve this. After you have begun to target networks and specific events, for example, the next step is to connect with members and establish your presence as a knowledgeable and proactive thought leader.
Thought leadership can essentially be described as the entry point into a relationship, and there are a number of ways that you can use this to engage event members and connections. Apart from adopting a proactive role in communicating with fellow members and introducing new members that can add value to the group, you should take the opportunity to publish and share information that is relevant to your industry. Look to share insightful, real-time news items with contacts through Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, using the content to spark debates and social conversations.
You should also look to use blogging as a viable thought leadership tool, publishing industry-relevant content that can intrigue and challenge members of the group. If you do follow this particular course, focus on developing detailed and informative posts that are consistent, topical and ultimately relevant to the theme of the networking event.
3. Attend the Event well-resourced and Immaculately Presented
After a period of time, you will have established yourself as a revered and well-liked member of your specific networking group. This makes the process of engaging fellow members in person at a networking event far easier, although your hard work can be undone if you are ultimately unprepared or make a poor physical impression.
To begin with, make sure that you are smartly and appropriately dressed for the occasion. Remember that this is a professional event, and you should wear similar attire as you would when attending a job interview or client meeting. Business-casual attire should be fine, although if you are in doubt research previous events for photographic evidence of how other members dressed. By presenting an immaculate appearance, you will underline the fact that you are taking the event seriously and reinforce your value as a network member.
In terms of preparation, you will also need to make sure that you have a set of professional business cards with you when you attend the event. If you leave these at home or simply forget to share them with fellow members, you may undermine the impression that you make at the event. Similarly, be sure to retain the business cards of key influencers who you have yet to connect with online, and strive to initiate further content within 24 hours of the event.
4. Develop an Emotive, Human Connection
We have already spoken about the importance of creating an entry point into a relationship prior to attending an event, and it is crucial to build on this by developing a human connection when meeting people in person. This can help to create business relationships that transcend an online network, establishing bonds that are genuine and based on multiple emotive factors such as trust, integrity and shared pursuits.
This type of emotive, human connection depends on effective communication skills, and more specifically the ability to ask insightful questions and listen intently to the answers. While the primary goal of any networking event may be to build a more successful career, it is crucial that you strive to develop mutually beneficial relationships that can stand the test of time. Strive to understand the underlying qualities of fellow members and their unique motivation to succeed, absorbing their responses to learn more and get a clearer understanding of them as individuals.
According to Tony Robbins, the quality and insightfulness of your questioning correlates to the quality of your life, which in turn reinforces your value as an individual. Above all else, the process of engaging individuals in a two-way conversation and learning from their responses lays the foundation for a distinctly human relationship.
5. Follow up after the Event and maintain a Tenacious approach to Communication
While you may adopt a focused approach to identifying and attending viable events, others are far more prolific on the networking scene. So even if you are successful in engaging potential contacts and making a positive impression, this will mean little if you fail to follow-up with regular and proactive communication.
If you are not to become just another face in the crowd, it is crucial that you are tenacious in your approach and connect further with the attendees who you met at the event. Aside from continuing your role as an active member of the group’s online interaction through LinkedIn and Twitter, you should also follow-up by sending emails to those who you connected with thanking them for their time and insight. Once they respond, you can continue to communicate and create a two-way dialogue in-between networking events.
On a note of caution, be sure to maintain some boundaries when communicating with fellow members. Use professional means of communication only, while also targeting individuals with whom you developed a significant rapport. This ensures that every interaction is natural and capable of being sustained over time.
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