An essential part of growing your career is making connections with others. These connections can lead to professional development, community, referrals, and more.
Luckily, there are specific events that exist with the purpose of facilitating these connections. These are called networking events.
Networking events allow professionals to come together. There are different types of networking events that range from casual to business casual to strictly business.
But all of these networking opportunities are ones you won’t want to miss. These events are a great way to connect companies and employers to their employees.
Through workshops and conferences, professionals can even further develop their own skills. At its core, networking events exist to set you up for success.
So how can you be the most prepared going into an event such as this? Keep reading below to find out.
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Types of networking events
Before heading into an event, you’ll want to know what the expectations are. Below are different types of networking events you may find yourself invited to.
#1. Happy hour meetups
Happy hour meetups are the most casual type of networking event. Employers will typically rent out a portion of a bar or restaurant.
And they provide the perfect opportunity for you to network in a relaxed atmosphere. You can order drinks and appetizers while having valuable discussions with colleagues.
But ultimately, these meetings are a time for team members to get to know one another. This isn’t a space for heavy marketing or handing out your business card.
This is a chance for you to talk in person without the stress of being in an office environment. So feel free to join in on the casual conversation.
You might not feel like it’s doing much. But having this shared experience is still a networking opportunity in disguise.
#2. Industry-specific conferences
These conferences are much more a professional engagement. Typically, attendees will gather to listen to knowledgeable speakers in the field.
Participants might even be asked to go off into breakout groups to discuss and create ideas. But take advantage of the speakers at this event.
Introduce yourself to those attending. Get as many different contacts as you can.
You could find yourself talking to the head of your company. Or the face of the brand of industries in your field.
This is the place to do business. Market yourself and establish professional contacts.
If the conference is local, offer to show people around. Give the impression that you are a go-getter.
And seek out advice from higher-ups to help you grow your own career. Demonstrating your interest will do more than you know.
#3. Roundtable events
Roundtable discussions typically gather a small group of professionals together. In conversation, they go over smaller ideas and come up with creative solutions.
This is the perfect space to share your knowledge and opinions. If you can, try to prepare in advance.
Construct a creative pitch for a unique service you plan to offer. Give concrete examples of how you plan to implement your ideas.
A team can only be successful when all its participants actively contribute. But most of all, roundtables are meant to facilitate professional discussions.
So make sure to support others on your team by listening. Show them you’re interested in what they have to say as well.
You definitely should not be the only one talking. Sometimes, these networking opportunities are just a chance for you to listen.
#4. Career fairs
Career fairs are a great place for anyone starting out in their chosen field. You might have just landed your first job or you’re still seeking one out.
Attend the career fair. Most people find their latest job through an online search.
But a career fair gives you the chance to meet industry groups in person. Take the time to talk to different companies.
Don’t rely on the off-chance that they’ll stumble across your Linkedin profile. Get out there and connect.
It’s so easy to do online marketing nowadays. But when it comes to marketing yourself, it’s always best to talk in person.
When you make that kind of contact, you actively demonstrate that you’re interested. Anyone can search online and click a button to apply on a company Linkedin.
But it means more to companies if you make the effort to connect in person. Even hand them your resume or business card while you’re there.
#5. Speed networking
Yes, speed networking is very much like speed dating. But here, you’re looking for business, not romance.
At a speed networking event, you have a short amount of time with other professionals one-on-one. During that time, introduce yourself, ask questions, and share contact information.
You can even share why you’re attending. To some, it might be obvious, but it’s always nice to hear that someone wants to make connections with others.
The key to networking is making a good first impression. So show the world who you are, even if only for a short period of time.
Attendees at these events will likely be industry professionals as well as students. Like a job fair, colleges will organize speed networking events to help students meet industry leaders.
If you’re a professional, take the time to speak with students as well. Networking is about making any and all connections you can.
These events are ultimately meant to foster a sense of community. So make sure that you are welcoming and open to all those who attend.
Workshops are a space for you to expand your knowledge and skill sets. But they also present the perfect opportunity to network.
These types of events will typically focus on a specific skill or topic. It might be on social media or how to build community amongst the team of attendees.
For example, you might engage in team-building exercises. Or, you might learn how to maximize a post for social media exposure.
But overall, let this be your chance to connect with the group. Learning a new skill alongside another person is very much a bonding experience.
If anything, workshops should teach you that networking can happen anywhere. Any professional event is a chance to get to know your business colleagues.
So, create a network wherever you go. The key to professional success is knowing how to make and sustain contact with others.
Before your networking event
Now you know the different types of networking events. But what exactly should you do to prepare beforehand?
#1. Establish a goal
Networking events give you the opportunity to connect. But what exactly is it that you want to accomplish?
Maybe there are certain attendees that you want to network with. Or maybe there are specific industry insights you want to learn for yourself.
Either way, use these meetings as a space to carry out your goal. Try coming up with two specific outcomes you wish to accomplish.
For example, you might wish to join a certain group within the business. Or, you might be looking to secure a job lead at the conference.
Additionally, you might have a pitch that could save members valuable money and time. Either way, make sure your vision is clear.
This will help you stay focused throughout the event. Sometimes, a networking event can feel overwhelming due to the number of attendees.
But your networking will benefit from having a goal in mind. Create these objectives to keep from wandering around aimlessly.
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#2. Dress professionally
What you wear is often what makes a good first impression. Your clothes are an easy way to tell the world that you’re all business or all casual.
But also be sure that what you wear is comfortable. Social media fills us with images about what we’re supposed to look like.
But for a work environment, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin. It is possible to wear business clothes and still feel comfortable.
So work on finding that balance for your next networking event. Ultimately, what you wear should make you feel confident.
When you feel good about yourself, you give off a positive impression. Let industry leaders and groups see that confidence. And maybe other attendees will too.
#3. Introduce yourself effectively
Once at the networking event, make your introduction count. Make eye contact and give a brief but firm handshake.
Then, listen to the other attendees your networking with. It might sound simple.
But listening is a free way to garner you brownie points. Most people get nervous at these networking events.
And that nervousness can cause them to stutter, ramble, or not listen to others. But good business boils down to listening.
Attend your local conference with the intention of listening. And try letting others speak first.
Most don’t realize this. But when a person is talking, the other person is thinking about what they’ll say next.
This means you don’t actually have their full attention. So try asking the other person questions first.
This gives you a chance to listen. And it ensures that they are attentive when it’s your time to speak.
#4. Demonstrate your interest with sincerity
Sometimes, business events and industry meetings can feel cold. But networking encourages groups to get to know one another.
Make sure you have a couple of good questions in mind before the event. When you ask about a person’s background, you demonstrate that you’re interested in more than just business.
Networking can certainly advance your own business. But more than anything, networking should be personal.
Below are some examples of questions to ask. These are the perfect blend of professional and personal:
- How do you like working for the company?
- What is the most rewarding part?
- What current projects are you working on right now?
- How did you first get involved in this specific field?
- What has kept you at this company for so long?
- In your experience, how is this company different from others?
At networking events, people are likely to meet several different people. But asking the right questions can help to set you apart.
#5. Take notes
At these networking events, you’ll likely learn a lot of new information. If you can, try taking a notebook with you.
When you have a chance, write down your thoughts about the people you meet. This will help you keep everyone you meet organized in your mind.
Additionally, write down any personal details they shared with you. Then you can bring this up at the next networking event.
This will be impressive to others. And it will ultimately demonstrate just how much you listened to them the first time around.
#6. Follow up afterward
A couple of days after the conference, follow up. Send an email or message through an online source.
This is a free way to help you to keep networking even after the event. Make sure your online message is personalized.
Mention how much you enjoyed meeting them. Maybe even mention something specific that you talked about.
This is also a great time to suggest a follow-up meeting. If you have more questions for them, ask for an informational interview.
This keeps you connected beyond the event. And it furthers your own professional development.
Networking and beyond
Networking is a free tool to use at your disposal. It can open you up to new people and new ideas.
And it can challenge you to put yourself out there like never before. There are various types of events in which you can employ these tools.
And before the event itself, make sure you know what you’re going into. This will ensure that you go into it calm and collected.
Ultimately, networking should be a fun experience. It engages people to get to know one another. Look at it as corporate entertainment.
And it teaches us to take opportunities as they come. So take a risk and introduce yourself to a higher-up you admire.
Or make plans with someone at the event to get together after the festivities. These events are meant to serve you and your interests.
So take advantage of them. And these events will surely provide you opportunities to network and succeed in your chosen field.
Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular comedian for corporate events, magician, and virtual speaker.