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Top Tips for attending a networking event.

So, you’ve made the decision to attend a networking meeting – well done, the first big step has been taken!  So now you need to make sure that you’re prepared before you leave.

I’ve been to lots of networking events over the years including as part of the organising teams – I love networking, it’s so `much fun! But I know that for many people, the fear of the unknown, or the “what if’s” can get in the way of your success.

I know I have met many of you networking, so you will already know all this, but for those of you who are a little more cautious, here are some of my top tips for how to prepare for a networking event:

Familiarise yourself with the details. Where is it (check Google Maps if you don’t know the venue – Google Earth will likely show you what the building looks like!) check the date and most importantly the time!

Check who else is going – ask in your own group of friends/business contacts- is anyone else going? This not only helps to spread the word about the meeting and encourages other business owners to take a look, but it could also mean that before you even get to the meeting, you will have the reassurance of a friendly face in the room when you arrive.

Ask the organisers for a delegate list – these aren’t always available, or sometimes not until after the meeting – but if they’re available beforehand, do your research and find out about the people you really want to talk to. Do your homework on them and find them when you get to the meeting.

Is there a Dress Code?  Some meetings are much ore formal than others – if there isn’t a dress code, I would always say wear what you feel most comfortable in, or that best represents your business!  If you’re a Yoga instructor – wear your Yoga kit – people will remember you!  It can often be a good idea to wear something branded too as this can help you stand out / be remembered.

Prepare YOURSELF – What will you say to people who ask what your business is? Think of something short and punchy. You will need to get their attention quickly and engender some interest in your business.

Stand out and be memorable – I have heard of people taking their own (branded) mugs – this means that your brand is always on display, and it also makes it a bit easier to manage than the standard cups and saucer affair that most meetings offer.  You could even get your name printed on it so it’s a constant reminder to the person you are talking to – remember lots of people find it hard to remember names!

Does the meeting require you to do a one minute pitch to the room? (some do, some are more relaxed) – if so, think about what you will say – again, think about how you can make it memorable and interesting to your audience. Practice speaking it out loud and time yourself too.

Make sure that you have enough business cards/literature to hand over to anyone who shows an interest – make sure that your business cards have all the relevant details on too! It’s easy to get carried away with the design features and forget to add your name, or your telephone number!   You will also find that some networking groups have a place where you can leave literature for people to browse and help themselves.  Maybe having a few brochures, special offer leaflets or some promotional merchandise to leave here will help people find you who you don’t get to speak to on the day.

Take a pen – and a notepad. It’s so easy to forget what people have said when the group is large – make notes of who you want to talk to after the meeting, and any information that you’ve agreed to send over.

Attend the meeting and engage with the delegates there – arrive in plenty of time and talk to as many people as you can. Remember that you might need their business services as well as them needing yours – so swap business cards.  Often the people you think will never be your customer, or vice versa turn out in time to be some of the best contacts at recommending you so it’s always worth getting to know as much as you can about people and never discount anyone!

Follow Up – after the meeting, make sure that you get in contact with those people you want to stay in touch with. Connect with them on LinkedIn, send them an email (particularly important if you’ve agreed to send over some information) and add their contact details to your filing system so that you can find them easily when you need to get in touch again.

DON’T spam people!  One of the things I find most irritating (and I know I am not alone here) is the generic emails some people send following a networking event… you know the type – it was great to meet you today (erm… we didn’t actually speak) or Hi Jody, sorry we didn’t get to chat but “Buy my stuff”…. Seriously not a good idea! 

Remember – networking is all about the relationship… it’s not likely that you will walk into a networking group and walk out with a new customer, it can take weeks if not months of regularly attending meetings, building the connections, and nurturing relationships, but if you do it right, I am yet to find an industry that networking doesn’t work for.

There is nothing to be scared of-as long as you have confidence in your business, you’ll be just fine.

I write all this as an experienced networker, but I’m certainly no expert…. I do however know a real networking expert who runs regular courses on getting the most from your business networking – please do not hesitate to let me know if you would like me to put you in touch with him… we met in 2009 at a networking group funnily enough, and we have supported each others businesses since then with referrals and introductions as well as both being customers of each other!

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