Attending a professional networking event can be like going to a party at a stranger’s house. You scan the crowd, searching for friendly faces, hoping you know at least one other person. When you realize you have to work the event solo, you suddenly feel shy and jittery — especially if “working the room” doesn’t come naturally to you.
Before the event, make a list of “targets” — the people you know you want to meet. Most conferences and other meet-and-greet events use social media now to publish a list of attendees, which can be helpful in your preparation. Many events also use hashtags on Twitter so attendees can connect before and during the event.
Turn your list of targets into an “event card,” which you can use to make notes about the people you meet and what you discuss. This can be a list in a notebook — or on your smartphone. Don’t take notes during a conversation, though. Others may feel uncomfortable if they sense they’re being interviewed.
Help contacts connect with you
You need to show your targets why they should know you. This means you should rehearse your introductions and tailor them for each key target. For instance:
Example 1: “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m an accountant with XYZ firm. Our firm does some work for your company. I’ve seen you copied on some of our correspondence, and I wanted to introduce myself since we’ve never actually met in person.
Example 2: “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m an accountant at XYZ firm. I believe you know my manager, Sue Smith. I noticed you two are connected on LinkedIn. How do you know Sue?”
Don’t wait too long to follow up
A day or two after the networking event, review your event card and the business cards you collected, and begin your follow-up emails. A brief email to say “hello” and remind a new contact about the conversation you had should suffice. Don’t call a contact unless you were encouraged to do so, or you both hit it off so well you know a phone call would be welcome.
If you don’t hear back from a contact after two attempts, more than likely that person is not interested in keeping in touch. Don’t take it personally. Not every connection you make is going to lead to a meaningful business connection. Focus your energy instead on those relationships you sense are going to be the most fruitful. If you approached the event strategically, you’ll no doubt have more than enough interesting new contacts to add to your professional network.