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In part 1 of this 2 part blog post, I gave you a vulnerable overview of a recent experience that just didn’t work out for me, in the hope that it would inspire you to plan ahead. You can read my blog on the unplanned consequences of attending a real life event in a post pandemic world here.
I came away from the event pondering many things that I would have and should have done differently. I sum up my tips here:
Try on your clothes a couple of days in advance so you are comfortable with your outfit and you have time to fill in any gaps that you might find, e.g. the perfect tie has a stain on it, your tights have a hole in them, your shoes need to go to the cobbler.
Do you need or want to bring business cards? You might need to get a new batch printed, so allow a little time for this. You could also consider using a digital business card if you haven’t got a printed version, or you don’t want a printed version. I use this product here as it’s highly customisable for my own digital business card.
I always write where I met the person, what event, were or are they a member/non member, conversation topics etc. This helps with me with my follow up which I cover a little further on in this article.
Pen & Paper
I’m a big fan of a little pocket notebook. An A6 notebook and pen that you can write notes about who you’ve met. It might be observations, thing you need to follow up on, items you’ve learned. This is the detail you’ll use for follow up when connecting digitally with people you’ve met after the event. It might also be information you’ll put in your CRM system so you build up a file on your newly expanded network.
Storing Business Cards
Where are you going to store business cards that you get? Jacket pocket, little handbag, business card holder that has a separate little pocket in it? Little things right? Well I mention them, because if you don’t plan this out in advance you’ll be distracted. And distractions cause you to stay in your own head worrying. So a few moments to plan ahead, frees up your headspace to network with intent!
If you are an introvert, plan to travel to the event alone so you conserve your energy and conversation for the event itself.
Arrive early, so you can get your bearings, find the bathrooms, fix yourself up and get your head ready for the few hours ahead.
Food & Drink
If it’s a cocktail event, be careful of how much drink you consume and ideally I’d eat in advance, so you are not having to balance eating with talking. It’s a distraction, so try to avoid this. Then there is no wondering if you have parsley in your teeth or whether your breath is going to smell after eating something garlicky! Focus your energy and time on networking.
Plan ahead for what success is going to look like. A good idea is to visualise the event. Imagine yourself arriving, bringing your coat to the cloakroom, finding the bathroom and freshening up. Now you’re read to rock. You might like to have a wing person to attend the event with as a morale boost, but if this isn’t possible, have a read of the following tips to manage yourself.
Practice your breathing. I like to advise box breathing, as it’s an easy to remember solution. Imagine a square box divided in four. Put the number 4 in each box. Now, breathe in for four seconds. Hold this breath for 4 seconds. Breathe out for 4 seconds and hold the breath out for 4 seconds. Repeat as required. Calming your breathing will calm your mind.
Get Your Smile On
When you’re in the bathroom freshening up, smile. This is the most effective and cheapest networking tool ever. Your smile. It’ll help you relax your body language. Your shoulders will relax. Let the smile reach your eyes. Now back to visualising you entering the room – have that smile on your face. It’ll present you as approachable and people gravitate towards approachable.
Familiarise Yourself with Your Surroundings
I mentioned in point 5 that it’s a good idea to arrive early. When you find the room where the networking event will take place, establish yourself. Get your cup of coffee or preferred beverage and position yourself facing the door. You’re already smiling, you’ve got your drink, so be ready to act like a host and welcome others coming to the event. Remember, they are as likely to be nervous about being out at a real live networking event too, so be kind. How would you like to be treated? Why not offer to get them a coffee and start a conversation that way.
Part of planning ahead is having an idea of who you want to meet in advance of attending the event. You might be able to get a list of the attendees in advance of the meeting. You could ask the host to make an introduction for you on your behalf. Be sure to have your talking points ready if you are planning a very targetted meeting. If you’re not sure who is going to attend, perhaps speak with the host, explain a little bit about what you do and who might be a good introduction for you and ask them to facilitate one or two meetings for you.
Work Out What Success Looks Like
Work that room. Yikes – that phrase would give me hives!! It literally makes my skin crawl. So how about if I said, if you’re an introvert, plan on having 2-3 substantial conversations at an event – refer to point 11 to help. This is going to be a successful event for you. Here’s how you plan and set KPIs to have a successful matrix.
Don’t be afraid to take regular breaks from the conversations. This could be to do a bathroom stop, to go outside for some fresh air…by doing this, you’ll allow yourself to recharge a battery notch and you’ll have more to give to others when you’re networking.
On Site 1-2-1s
I explore the ins and outs of 1-2-1s in this blog, so have a read if you’re unfamiliar with the idea of doing them.
Depending on the time of your event, e.g. a late morning, lunchtime or early evening event, it may be a good idea to organise to have a 1-2-1 with someone before or after the networking event. This helps you maximise your time, energy and money spent on travel.
Manage Your Energy
Knowing whether you’re an introvert or extrovert in this regard is really key and so important to you networking well and managing yourself to best effect. If you’ve never investigated your personality type, then I’d highly recommend investing in getting yourself profiled. I’m a qualified DiSC profiler, so feel free to link in with me to discuss your profiling needs or your teams profiling needs. Knowing your communication style and how you bounce and impact off others is golddust!
Getting out to real life networking is going to be more exhausting and draining than you realise; even if you love networking. We are all out of practice. It’s going to take time to get back into a flow, to build up our resilience for in person networking, so be aware of this.
Reminding ourselves and planning ahead to get ready for networking events is going to take up headspace and time for things that would just have been automatic 2-3 years ago. So I say, don’t fight it. Just plan for it.
Schedule Your Downtime
When the event is over, have downtime planned. Ideally, you’re travelling back alone after the event, as you need time to process the conversations, learnings and reflect back on the people you met. I always advise, particularly for introverts, to never schedule a meeting or another event involving a lot of talking for straight afterwards. Batteries need to be recharged.
Diarise Your Follow Up
The devil is always in the detail and with networking events, it’s all about the folllow up. If you’ve made a promise, then keep it. No matter how trivial it may appear. Did you speak about an article or a book you’re reading? Did you suggest an introduction? Whatever you mentioned to people, have a note of this in your little notebook or write it on the business card and make sure you follow through. This is where you are making yourself memorable and building that trust in your relationship.
From there, I will always aim to email the person with a personalised note, so here’s where my observations and conversation points noted on the business card, come in handy. I will connect on Linkedin and other social media channels. After that, i will try to organise a 1-2-1 to get to know the person a bit better and they get to know me a bit better too. This is how to build up the know, like and trust factor.
All in all, my advice is to be kind. Smile and welcome others. It’ll help put you at ease and put them at ease. It’s a win:win. Many people have started networking in the past couple of years and have only done so on Zoom, so in person networking is going to be intimidating and daunting.
Be patient and be conscious that the experience is going to be different for each person. The experience of coming out of a pandemic is going to effect each of us differently. We were all in a pandemic, but it had a different impact on us all, so don’t assume what it is going to be like for others. Being gracious will help engender a stronger relationship.
Have you got other tips for surviving and thriving at in person events in a post pandemic world? Do share them in the comments. So many people are not feeling their best selves, so all sharing of great ideas will really help others see they are not alone. After all, sharing is caring!
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