In-Person Events Are Back, Now What?
It’s been a long time coming, but in-person events are finally back! For some people, it’s been over 15 months since they’ve been able to go to an event, meet up with friends, connect with new people, and network. Although it’s been great to meet people virtually and stretch some new social muscles I didn’t know I had from a distance, there is just something special seeing people face-to-face. As an extrovert and somewhat serial networker, I have sincerely missed these activities, and I’m super excited they are back!
The return of these events means the return of networking, and while not everyone is a fan of networking, it’s a critical activity to grow your business, find a new job, and develop meaningful relationships in business. In fact, according to a recent article published by Apollo Technical, “80% of professionals find networking essential to their career success, and almost 100% believe face-to-face meetings build stronger long-term relationships.”
These stats and other research clearly demonstrate the power of in-person meetings, yet there are still lots of people that remain skeptical and dread networking altogether — and I believe that’s because they don’t fully understand how to use relationships in business the right way — and that’s what we’re going to focus on today.
But before we dive into the nitty gritty of how to make networking work for you, it's important to understand where networking opportunities exist. Most people view these as formal, in-person meet ups, but you have the opportunity to network in a variety of places. The reality is you have the opportunity to network with people any time you are in a situation to have a conversation — even just one person. That’s all networking really is — a conversation with someone else.
You can have these conversations at a PTA meeting, at your HOA meeting, dinner with friends, an impromptu meet up in a coffee shop, on the infamous elevator ride to your office, or on the way to visit a client. Literally, the opportunity to network presents itself to you multiple times during the day — and most people aren’t prepared for (or even equipped to recognize) the personable opportunities right in front of us, every single day.
So, how do you prepare your on-the-go, everyday mindset for in-person events and networking? You have a plan in place (recognizing what opportunities are valuable ones), know what your end goals are (what you can offer to others, what value you find in others), and know some engaging questions to stir up meaningful conversation in everyday interactions.
Networking is not about you — your sole focus should be listening and engaging with who’s in front of you. As strange as that sounds, if you focus on the other person, you’ll be amazed at how easy networking really is and how much fun it can be.
Planning is critical in business — and networking is a business-related activity. You have to have a plan of what you are doing, why it’s important to you, and what success looks like in networking interactions. I’m confident you would not send your installers out to install a project without the appropriate tools, and that includes a plan or instructions. Why would you invest in networking without a plan in place to make those conversations easier and more natural for yourself?
Most people dislike networking or dread going to these events, because they don’t have a plan — they just go because someone invited them or their boss told them to go. The fact is, networking is important for your business. Plan out the most exciting factors of your business that you’d like to share, have your engaging questions ready to go, prepare to listen well, and see how much more it impacts your business (and who knows, you might be a secret networking junkie like me!).
As with other aspects of your life and career, you need to know what your goals are for networking events. These don’t need to be complicated, but you have to know what you want out of the time you are investing in face-to-face meetings. Make no mistake, these events are an investment and should be treated as such. Networking should be part of every business and sales strategy, and as with any strategy, you need to establish goals to measure your progress and success.
These goals don’t have to be complicated — in fact, the simpler they are the better. Here are a few examples to point in the right direction:
But the first goal you should determine is why — why are you attending networking events and what does success in business relationships look like for you. Knowing your why before going to an event will give you the clarity to understand how each conversation and interaction is an investment to benefit you and your business.
I could write an entire column about developing your pitch and the importance of knowing it and sharing it with the people you are meeting in a natural, meaningful, and authentic way, that doesn’t sound as creepy as the typical pitch you hear from so many people. But for now, I’ll keep it simple with a quick example.
Rather than answer the dreaded question about what you do with, “I sell office furniture,” change it up to say something along the lines of, “I help companies create dynamic work environments that create greater employee engagement, enhance job satisfaction, and increase overall productivity.” Sounds much better and more dynamic, right? But what does this pitch demonstrate? It intrigues and engages the person you are talking to, it makes them curious and leaves them wanting to know more — and that’s when the conversation really gets started.
Focus on developing a pitch that you are comfortable with that feels easy for you to share. Write it down, practice it in front of a mirror, and share it with friends and colleagues to get feedback until you get it to a point that flows naturally.
Knowing what questions to ask is an essential part of making networking natural for yourself and valuable. Most people ask the basic questions like, “What do you do?” “What brought you here today?” and “What part of the city do you live in?” These are all boring, surface-level questions, other than where they live, you are not really going to learn anything about the other person — and remember, networking is about the other person, not about you.
So what questions do you ask? Obviously, you want to ask their name, but after that, ask them a few questions along the lines of: “What do you hope to accomplish by being here today?” or “What are your goals for this event?” or “Why did you choose this networking event?” or “Who are you hoping to connect with at this event?” or “What problems do you solve for your customers?” All of these questions engage people and give you the opportunity to get to know them and understand how you can help them.
People love to talk about themselves, especially when it’s comfortable and when they are being asked questions, so create that environment for them. You’ll never know who they can introduce you to or what they can do for you, unless you ask them questions and direct the focus of the conversation on them.
Networking can be fun! It provides you with the opportunity to meet some amazing people, grow your network, and your business — but you have to be prepared, just like anything else in life. Please visit my blog, and let me know what your plan is and how these tips are helping you create the success you need and want in your business. www.sidmeadows.com/blog