Business networking events can be fun for some people and scary for others. Read on to find out what you should – and shouldn’t – do at business networking events!
DO make sure that you are professional in every way. Networking events are often held in casual environments like bars or entertainment venues, but that doesn’t mean that you should allow the venue choice to determine what you should wear. Though the location may suggest otherwise, wear a business casual outfit at the very least. If you are in a business or formal environment, wear a suit. Being professional also extends to your behavior, so if there is food or drinks offered make sure that you only take enough for yourself. Know your limits with alcohol and stick to having one or two drinks at the most.
DO bring everything you need to network successfully. Nothing would be worse than to meet a great potential contact and not be prepared to exchange information! Read about the event and what types of people will be attending, and tailor your preparation for the crowd you will be facing. A few days before the event, check to make sure that you have enough business cards to hand out at the event. If not, have more of them printed immediately. Before you leave home, make sure that you have your business cards, a notepad, and a professional-looking pen. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have all of these things neatly arranged in a leather portfolio so that you look professional. If you have a smartphone, use that to take notes and gather contacts.
DO be willing to talk to people you don’t know. Networking is all about having conversations with new people. If you intend to keep to yourself during the entire event, then it may be best for you not to go. If you are really shy or just don’t want to talk to people, try bringing a more talkative colleague with you who can help with introductions and build your confidence as you work around the room. You can also try using a warm chatter approach where you give out a sincere compliment and use that as a foot in the door for more conversation.
DO be confident as you are networking at the event. Remember that you have gotten to where you are in life because you are smart and talented. Be aware of how you are standing so that you can avoid slouching, looking down, or putting your hands in your pockets. Give everyone you meet a firm handshake, and make and keep eye contact when you are speaking with someone. Having some prepared lines about you or your company ready to present to people will help with your confidence as well since you know that you will always have something to say should someone want to strike up a conversation with you.
DO set goals for yourself at each networking event. Perhaps you’d like to speak with a certain person, or make a certain number of potential contacts to help you with a specific issue at your company. Though you may do a little bit of socializing, the point of going to a business network event is to expand your business contacts. Having goals in mind when you go will help you stay on track with your purpose for being there and avoid wasting the night. When you set your goals for the event, be realistic about them, and don’t expect to develop a great network overnight.
DON’T get drunk or behave rudely at the event. If you know you cannot handle alcohol or have never had a drink before, then avoid the alcohol at all costs. Do not make any rude or insensitive jokes to or about anyone. Just because you think something is funny doesn’t mean someone else will, so be sure not to go overboard with your humor. If you have a problem with someone who is attending the event, steer clear of them and don’t talk to potential contacts about that person or your problem.
DON’T talk about “heavy subjects” with people at a business networking events. It’s not a good idea to get into issues of politics or personal beliefs with your potential contacts, as this may taint their image of you as a person and cause them to lose interest in having you in their business network. If your company is having serious problems or issues, don’t talk about them with people at the event. Keep your conversation light and neutral, and try to stick to business topics that everyone in the conversation can relate to.
DON’T go straight for the most important person in the room and ignore everyone else. First, you need to look at everyone you meet as a potential contact who may bring something of benefit to you or your company. Second, people will notice if you only came to meet that one important person, and they may begin to view you in a negative light or assume that you’re only there to advance yourself or your career. Remember that business networking events are about making real, lasting connections and not only about advancing yourself.
DON’T make any promises to anyone at a business networking event, and don’t ask others to promise you anything either. If someone asks you to do something or you see the potential for a business deal to be made, tell your new contact that you will get back to them to set up another meeting to discuss the details. You need to also make sure that you are being respectful of everyone there, and this means not asking anyone for favors or trying to force your way into a deal on the spot. You’ll be able to avoid looking rude and ensure that everyone has enough time and space to make decisions that will be good for themselves and their company.
DON’T forget to follow up with everyone you exchanged information with at the event. If you don’t follow up with people, they will forget about you, and some may even be offended that you did not reach out to them. It is important for you to remember that some of your contacts will turn into lasting connections, and some won’t. Since you never know who those lasting connections will be, don’t burn any bridges by never getting back to people. It’s also important that you contact them by phone unless they have specified a different preference for communication. Email can be impersonal and rarely leads to a serious connection, and text messages should be avoided at all costs.