GETTING THE MOST OUT OF NETWORKING EVENTS October 3, 2023 | Marketing , Business Tips | networking , small business , business growth , entrepreneur By Kimberly Stevens, NPI, Inc.'s Marketing & Business Coach There’s a lot that goes into growing a small business, between learning the industry, making smart connections, and keeping up with the newest innovations. Naturally, this means that networking events can be a valuable opportunity for entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door and truly elevate their business. Any time a business owner can get themselves into a room where they are surrounded by other like-minded industry professionals, they have a chance to learn new strategies and techniques that can take their business plan to the next level. Unfortunately, many find networking events to be lacking as they struggle to make meaningful connections. Whether spending time at a convention, giving a presentation, or attending some other industry event, sometimes it can be tough to see immediate returns on your time and energy. If you’re looking for some strategies on how to capitalize best on networking events, give this process a try! In so many ways, successful businesses are built on relationships. Here’s how you can more reliably make a good first impression. Take Some Time to Prepare As with most things, good preparation is the best way to set yourself up for success. When it comes to attending a networking event, this fact is as true as ever. Setting aside time to do research on the keynote speakers, the various vendors sponsoring and attending the event, and possibly looking into other people who might be attending will allow for time to think through who you’d be most interested in meeting. Too many people attend events without any clear goals in mind, making interaction incidental, rather than intentional. Seek out specific people to discuss specific topics with genuine interest, and you won’t find yourself stranded aimlessly by the punch bowl. In this same vein, it can be great to find some time for introspection prior to the event. What are you looking to improve about your business? Are you interested in exploring new add-on services, learning about new technologies, or discovering others’ strategies for breaking into new markets? You may have one question, or you might have a hundred questions in mind! Defining these thoughts beforehand and trying to think of who might be able to answer those questions can be a great start to make your future event even more productive. In addition, it may be valuable to think through a basic introduction for yourself. Some people are extroverted and comfortable enough to speak off the cuff about themselves and their background, but for others, this can feel like an odd, even exhausting experience. Simplifying with a few clear facts that you can explain over a brief period can actually help you make yourself more memorable in the long run. Networking events can mean meeting dozens to hundreds of people at a time. Preparing with a clean and straightforward introduction will make you stand out even more for future encounters. Arrive Early (When Possible) After properly preparing yourself for the event, consider showing up early. When new to an industry or organization, it can be very difficult to break into established groups as attendees tend to gather with recognized figures. By arriving early, not only are there more opportunities for one-on-one conversations, but there should also be opportunities to chat with speakers and event organizers (both being the sorts of people with plenty of connections and unique perspectives). When speaking at an event yourself, you will likely need to show up early to set up any visual aids or simply to become more familiar with the space. It is during these instances where you should start with some early introductions to become at least somewhat familiar with a few people in the room. Not only does this exercise make public speaking a bit easier (thanks to a couple of additional recognizable faces in the room), but it also means that there will be people to return to later on as touchpoints. Especially at networking events that include multiple break-out sessions wherein it is impossible to attend everything, having people to relay what was missed is a big benefit. Arriving early to events allows the opportunity to meet important people and this one action can set the entire occasion off on the right foot. Find Your Way Into Conversations Again, for some more extroverted individuals, thinking of things to talk about is no problem at all. However, many people struggle to find a comfortable conversation partner in unfamiliar situations. For navigating your way into active discussions, or simply striking up a new topic of interest with a stranger, there are a few things to keep in mind that can make this process a little more natural. First, try to ask questions. Many can get caught up with talking about themselves, sharing their own experiences, or keeping a discussion centered around their own insights. This tendency is natural, but it isn’t necessarily conducive to growing a relationship. Instead, active listening, then asking genuinely for elaboration is the best way to invite deeper engagement. In addition to this, practicing positive body language is absolutely necessary for strong communication. As we all know, only a portion of communication is verbal. Smiling, maintaining appropriate eye contact, and carrying oneself in a relaxed and open manner will all work together to invite connection. Simply by being generous in conversations, and not always looking to see what can immediately be gained from a relationship, entrepreneurs can make more reliable and impactful connections for the future. Finally, the most awkward challenge in networking is how to approach a group of people that are already engaged in a conversation. Tune in to assess whether the conversation is lighthearted, and if it is, stand near the group with a smile and wait for one of them to find the opportune time in the conversation to acknowledge you and introduce themselves. This takes some courage, but if it’s a networking event, people understand that the purpose of the event is to meet and greet. I have implemented this tactic for years and 100% of the time I have been welcomed into the group. The other awkward moment can come when you know you need to work the room, but don't want to be rude by leaving or disengaging from the current conversation. A good rule of thumb is to try to stay in a conversation for about 5 to 10 minutes and then disengage. Consider these options to disengage: Say “It was really nice to meet you! Can I give you two of my business cards: one for you and one for you to give away. And I would love to have two of your cards.” Then excuse yourself to go get a snack or a drink. Exchange cards and then bring over a contact to introduce who you know would be a good connection for them. After the introduction you can excuse yourself to go get a drink. Navigating networking situations can be tough, but the value gained from these situations cannot be overstated. Use these points as a start, and feel free to reach out anytime for more advice on representing your business well! With National Property Inspections, franchisees gain access to a nationwide network of successful entrepreneurs. For a community to bounce ideas off of, and to learn from those that have made the mistakes so you don’t have to, ask about starting your own property inspection franchise today! About the Author Kimberly Stevens, Marketing & Business Coach The baby of eight children, Kimberly learned quickly to master the art of communication in order to be heard. She has been with NPI for more than 15 years and is passionate about getting to know our franchisees. Kimberly is a certified marketing and business coach, trainer and speaker, leading training seminars, one-to-one coaching and more. She's a high-energy, fiery red head and an eternal optimist. Her greatest joy is celebrating our franchisees’ victories!