As a board member of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Cincinnati chapter, I’ve been to a lot of networking events – good ones and bad ones. I’ve also organized and hosted my own networking events, including the ever-popular Speed Networking. It saves time and money to know which networking formats work best for me and my professional goals.
Here are some of the more common networking event formats and the benefits of each:
In Person, Casual Events
The most common networking events around town are networking happy hours. Whether it’s at a bar with alcohol after work hours or at a coffee shop in the early mornings, I call these events casual and unstructured because they welcome many visitors to come and go as they please and are generally free. And you not only get deals on drinks, you get a place to casually meet others with similar interests. Just started a new business? Looking for a new job? It’s easy to find a networking event in your town that centers on your interest or industry.
In Person, Structured Events
The second most common events (and some of my favorites) are the structured in-person networking events. These can be speed networking, round-table discussions, and workshops. While they usually have a small price tag and occur during work hours, you get more in-depth information about a topic or industry. These events are well-suited for first-timers and job seekers.
In-person Conferences and Lunches
I said the c-word sales and marketing people love to hate – conferences. Big or small, conferences can be overwhelming. Although you can meet many professionals and influencers in your industry, conferences can eat up time and money quickly. Do your research before attending a conference and plan your year in advance.
If conferences are too much, try a luncheon or breakfast meeting. You get a meal and quality time with other professionals.
Online Forums and Platforms
LinkedIn is the obvious choice for online networking, but other social media sites, including Facebook, have groups you can join to talk to and share information with other professionals interested in a topic or industry. Free from advertisements and salespeople, they’re a safe place to ask questions and get honest answers. Here’s an article about how to use Facebook for professional networking.
Tips for Excelling at Networking Events
- Get your phone out. Yes! I mean that. Sure, business cards are great, but have you heard of LinkedIn’s new QR codes for simple connections? Check out this article to learn how to use your LinkedIn mobile app to connect with others.
- Don’t be shy about getting out of dead conversations. We’ve all been stuck talking about the weather and their kid’s soccer team – but if you’re not feeling the conversation, thank them for talking with you and say you’re going to continue mingling.
- Grab a drink. If you’re nervous, doing something will your hands can make you feel less awkward.
- Take notes. Bring a notebook, or at least a pen. When someone hands me a business card, I make a quick note on the card of something memorable we spoke about, so I’m better prepared to follow up.
- Ask insightful questions.
- Introduce yourself to the organizer. I love when guests introduce themselves. I feel appreciated – and it’s how I’ve met most people I select to join my AMA committee.
- Forget the elevator pitch. Every conversation you have will be different. You don’t have time to recite your speech. Treat people like friends.
- DO NOT SOLICIT OR TRY TO SELL. No one likes a salesperson. They want a valuable connection.
For many business people, networking is a ‘necessary evil.’ Luckily, there are numerous options when it’s time to choose a networking event; from in-person events to online events, there’s something for everyone.
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