10 Tips for Surviving Your First Business Networking Event

attending your first networking eventThe thought of your first business networking event is often a daunting prospect. It’s natural to feel nervous when you’re trying to establish credibility early on in your career. If you’re planning to attend your first event, try some of our tips to assist your painless transition from networking rookie to aficionado.

Be Prepared - What is your goal for the event? Perhaps you want to meet clients, establish contacts across the industry or learn more about the sector you operate in. Check out the event’s website. If it’s an expo combined with a conference, you’ll find a list of exhibitors and often a floor plan to allow you to plan your day in advance.

Arrive Early – The busier the day gets, the harder it will be to attract the attention of potential new contacts.  Arrive early or suggest a breakfast meeting with people you have exchanged telephone calls or e-mails with.

Dress Appropriately – First impressions count; you may meet potential clients or future employers at this event. Remain professional and think practically. Some events require you to be on your feet for extended periods of time in which case comfortable footwear is essential.

Don’t Forget Business Cards – Time may be limited so at the very least, endeavor to exchange business cards. You can follow up with an introductory e-mail on return to the office.

Maintain Eye Contact – Use positive body language. Avoid folding your arms during a conversation, maintain eye contact and express interest. Remain in the moment and listen ‘actively’.

Ask Concise Questions – You may only have a few minutes with some people.  Introduce yourself and ask about their company, inquire about new products, what their goals are for the next twelve months, how long they have worked in their current role. Avoid closed questions that only require a ‘yes or no’ answer.

Make Notes - It’s impossible to remember every conversation you have during the course of the day. Take five or ten minutes alone in the coffee lounge to reflect on your experience and gather yourself for the next onslaught of new faces.

Social Guidelines 1 : Don’t Drink Too Much  – A significant amount of networking often takes place in the bar at many events.  Inhibitions are loosened and people are more receptive to business approaches. One cautionary note; this is still a professional environment. While it’s sometimes difficult to avoid alcohol on these occasions, do not overdo it.  There’s nothing that will sink your professional reputation more quickly than drunken antics at your first networking conference.

Social Guidelines 2 : Be Natural – Build up a rapport.  You may wish to discuss the potential of working together but maintain emphasis on more social conversations after hours. As an opener, ask people about their experience of the event and whether or not they’ve attended one before.

Follow-Up - Congratulations! You’ve survived your first networking event unscathed!  On your return to the office update your list of contacts and e-mail everybody you’ve met or exchanged business cards with. Connect on LinkedIn, preferably using a personal note to remind them of your meeting.  Thank them for their time and suggest a follow-up meeting or an agreement to keep in touch. Nurture your new found network with care and you will reap the rewards in the future.

Now it’s time to plan your second event with confidence.