With the Infosec exhibition right around the corner (travel permitting), I wanted to put this brief guide together to help maximise your investment in the event if you're going:
It should go without saying that all business Networking events - Social, Speed Networking - should feel safe, comfortable and inclusive for everyone as we all start to venture out now.
At least that’s the theory.
Yet earlier last week, I met up with a coaching client (we’ll call her “Kathryn”) and we got talking about the many different networking events and formats available to professionals of all genders and levels of seniority.
They are many, varied and, more often than not, absolutely buzzing; they are almost certainly diverse (Birmingham is known as a Super-Diverse City) and the vast majority of them are well run and attended. Importantly, they can also be highly productive and fun too!
At least, all this was true pre-pandemic.
One event Kathryn told me about, though, made her feel really uncomfortable and she recounted this story to me:
The event was scheduled for a Thursday lunchtime, which worked well as she had a whole day of appointments in central Brum that day.
Upon arriving at the venue, attendees were led down an almost vertical flight of stairs, to a room which was quite dimly lit and drinks were served.
It was only then that Kathryn realised that there were probably around 30 men in attendance but only a small number of women; 2 of whom were completely surrounded by men who I‘m sure were just trying to be friendly and polite.
Nonetheless, it felt uncomfortable for her. So much so that she departed as soon as she could, not even staying for lunch.
No wonder there are a number of events springing up aimed specifically at women
In short, she said it felt more like a dating experience, not lunchtime networking for city professionals.
Given that everyone else had given up their lunchtimes to attend, the organisers really should have put more thought into ensuring the appropriate environmental conditions were in place to create a safe and comfortable space to network, discuss and debate the issues of the day.
Women - or anyone for that matter - should never feel vulnerable in networking situations.
I contrast that experience with the excellent events I used to attend before the coronavirus struck. For example, Cereal Networking - hosted by Gurdas Singh and Omar Rashid - and also Breakfast Briefing events hosted by IOD West Midlands. (I should say at this point that other Networking events are available).
In summary, both of these other events provided what I like to call Networking Brilliant Basics.
Networking Events Should Provide the Following as a Minimum:
Is it COVID-secure? The venue should be able to tell you what additional measures they’ve taken to ensure everyone’s safety at their venue.
Is it People-Friendly? Will the location's environmentals encourage delegates to mingle, or will they be a detractor? Lighting is incredibly important In order to create positive vibes - after all, we’re networking, not clubbing or dating!
Is there a Sponsor? Networking events can offer great sponsorship opportunities. And, if you do sponsor the event, you’ll likely have branding opportunities and possibly even a speaker slot too. Make sure you wring every possible ounce of value from your investment opportunity and make sure to get a copy of the delegate list
Impact on Your Working Day? Make sure the event doesn’t impact too heavily on your working day. Networking is a key part of my Go to Market Strategy, so I prioritise certain networking events first and then base my work appointments around that time and location. It works for me.
Is the Event Inclusive? Is the event scheduled for a time suitable for single parents or after standard school-run times?
Location - is the event easy to get to, does it have parking and how close is it to public transport, is it engaging to be in and does it have "networkability"?
Speakers - If there is a Speaker at the event, are they a known quantity (to you) and are they going to offer you something of value?
7 Top Tips to Maximise Leads from Networking
1. Get the List in Advance
If you're a member of the particular networking group you're attending, you should be able to obtain a list of attendees in advance with their company name and, GDPR permitting, their email address.
Scan the list carefully and highlight anyone that looks as though they could be in your target market - ask the host if they can point that person out for you to make it easier.
2. Elevator Pitches at the Ready
As sure as eggs are eggs, 1 of the 1st questions people will ask is "what do you do?"
You'll come across more professional if you have a short succinct response to that question, rather than a waffly, meandering statement that leaves people dazed and confused.
3. To Shake or Not to Shake?
Firm handshakes at the ready - mirroring if you're a real pro!
"Include quotes by experts in your post to add credibility." – SEO specialist
4. Variety is the Spice of Life
Feel free to include personal details and examples. The more relatable you or your website is, the more you connect with your readers.
5. Build Relationships
Don't be the person that's in constant sales mode - an ironic tip given I'm a sales trainer but it's true. People that are in sales broadcast mode tend to be avoided at all cost
Good conversationalists make for good listeners. Ask open questions and take a genuine interest in the answers to your questions. Remember though, it's not an interrogation!
Conversation. Not interrogtion.
7. Have a Goal
Have a goal of getting "X" number of business cards for your business.
People are using business cards less and less these days for several reasons but, as an alternative, you can connect with them on LinkedIn.
If you have the LinkedIn app on your phone, you can have them scan your QR code to make it easier (here's a handy article to show you how)
Networking as Part of Your Go-to-Market Strategy
Networking can be good fun and highly productive - especially if you're an extrovert - but it can be time-consuming and tiring too. It's important therefore to consider Networking as only a part of your business's total Go to Market Strategy.
There are many other ways of generating new opportunities for your business.