How To Make The Most Of A Networking Event
When it comes to networking events, I find people are usually on one of two ends of the spectrum:
Anxious about making a poor impression and overthinking every word that comes out of their mouth
Winging it and bouncing around the the event without a care in the world and a cocktail in their hand
Whichever end you find yourself leaning towards, I think we can both agree that neither do very much to support your business goals. In today’s post, I’m going to share my tips for finding the happy medium and making the most of your next networking event.
Dress The Part
You’ve heard the expression, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” The same goes for freelancing and attracting the kind of clients you want to work with.
When you’re self-employed, you have complete freedom over every decision you make for your business. The same care and attention you put into designing your website and curating your Instagram feed should go into how you represent yourself with your wardrobe.
Put on something that makes you feel confident and reflects the kind of potential client you want to connect with.
Bring Business Cards
At more and more networking events I’ve noticed that Instagram has become the new business card exchange. And while you may go through an entire happy hour sharing handles over cards, nothing dampens an impression faster than not having your business cards on hand when an interested client asks for one.
I always make sure I have at least a handful of business cards on me at all times and when it comes to networking events, even more.
Prepare Your Messaging
Messaging for networking events is major key.
If you’re a comms person like me this should come as no surprise but if you’re anyone else outside of the spectrum, let me catch you up to speed.
When I talk to people about their anxiety around networking events it’s usually because they’re uncomfortable talking about themselves - which as a freelancer should never be an issue because you are your business. However, the easiest way to get over this self-inflicted pressure is to practice messaging before the event.
Messaging is crafted around what you want to get out of a situation. At a networking event you want to attract new clients and educate people about your freelance business. Simple, right? Yes. Yes, it is.
From here I think about conversations and questions that typically go down. More than likely, someone will ask you, “What do you do for a living?” or, “What brings you here today?”
From here, think of three messages that open the door to support your goal:
I’m a freelance communications consultant focusing on strategy and message development; and I thought this would be a great place to connect with new clients.
I’m really interested in connecting with people in this space because I feel like my freelance communications consultant business could add a lot of value.
I work as a freelance communications consultant and want to expand my business into this industry. What does your comms program look like where you work?
These messages all say the same thing and are clear, confident and to the point. So often we overthink the most basic of topics but when it comes to you and your business, the best thing to do is simplify it and have confidence in your delivery. This is your job and it’s something to be proud of.
Leave Your Expectations At The Door
The more you expect from a situation, the more heightened your anxiety and the bigger the letdown.
You may have dozens of goals or hopes for what you might get from attending a networking event but it’s important to leave them at the door and just let the day unfold. This will also help you think more on your feet and stay present in what’s happening around you.
The last thing you want is to miss out on an opportunity that’s right in front of you because you’re too distracted by something you’ve manifested in your head.
Go Easy On The Cocktails
Most networking events these days are centered around happy hour culture and while everyone loves a signature cocktail, it’s important to stay focused on your goals. My rule of thumb for networking events is no more than one cocktail (occasionally two) so you’re always sharp.
Work The Room
I get it. Starting one conversation is hard enough but it is so important to work the room at these events. You never want to invest all of your time into one conversation because it’s all about maximizing time and connecting with people.
A great way to manage yourself and make sure you’re not investing too much time into one dialogue is to remember your messaging and goals. Have you hit all of your talking points for this conversation? If the answer is yes, the next sentence out of your mouth should be, “I’ve really loved our conversation. Let’s exchange business cards so we can stay in touch.”
You’re being polite but also signaling that it’s time to move on to the next conversation.
You’re home and you have a purse full of new business cards.
First things first, write down something memorable about the person on the back of each card while your conversations with them are fresh in your mind.
Most people think that networking ends with the event but that couldn’t be further from the case. The very next day, send a follow up note to your new connections to make sure they remember you.
The email can be short and simple. Maybe it’s even in a LinkedIn request. Here’s an example.
(Replace words in parenthesis with information that’s specific to you.)
It was great to meet you at the (networking event) yesterday. I really enjoyed our conversation about (the current state of the industry).
I’d love to stay in touch and I hope there’s an opportunity to work together soon.
Here’s a link to my professional website for your reference: (website)
The follow up is what separates most people from having a casual conversation at an event to securing a new client.
A simple follow up can make a big impression. It shows initiative, that you’re professional and that you can be relied upon to do what you say you’re going to do.