How to Make Sure Networking Events Aren’t a Waste of Time

November 6, 2017By Views


by Dave Wendland, CommunityVoice for Forbes Agency Council, as appeared on September 25, 2017

To some, attending networking events or local gatherings of business professionals is a waste of time. I’ve heard complaints that the room was too crowded, they didn’t recognize anyone, or the event was simply too long and inconvenient.

Before examining these misguided reactions, let's first discuss the purpose of networking and the value it brings to building your business.

You can take many roads to discover new leads and make new connections for your organization (both mass and targeted), such as advertising, direct mail, website marketing and telemarketing, among others. However, when you’re selling to other businesses, networking is particularly effective. It’s a time-tested forum to expand knowledge, meet new people, tell others about your business, identify potential new clients and establish key business partnerships.

Now let’s talk about the myths associated with business networking.

Networking is a waste of time.

You need to be selective. You don’t want to become a networking junkie, going to every event that presents itself. The best way to vet potential events is to develop and use screening criteria. This may include things such as reputation of the sponsoring group, location or venue, comments from past participants or company news or events that become timely to share. If the parameters of the event align with these goals, then whether it becomes a complete waste of time is entirely within your control.

The room is too crowded and not conducive for conversations.

Given the choice between an echo chamber and tight quarters, I’ll take tight quarters any day. This greatly increases the odds of engaging in a conversation that may prove quite beneficial. The key to success in such a setting is a keen understanding of the process of quick engagements and assessments. This is where your 30-second elevator pitch can make a big impact. It should be rehearsed, honed and fluid. With the right elevator pitch, you can determine within seconds of meeting someone whether the conversation can go further. Starry-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights gazes are your surefire signals to move on. Politely exiting a conversation to pursue the next is another skill you need to practice.

These events are inconvenient to attend.

If crystal balls were available in advance of a networking event or occasion it would be far easier to fit the ideal ones into your schedule. Unfortunately, such things don’t exist, so it's only through experimentation and exploration that you can discover the type of event that fits best with your objectives. That said, it is vitally important to prioritize networking and business-building opportunities. Obviously, you can't possibly attend every event, but I believe that many would find nearly any excuse acceptable in order to avoid a networking opportunity.

You never know who you’ll meet.

Networking lets you sniff out contacts you might not meet through cold calling. Developing relationships with prospects before you call can make them more receptive to accepting a meeting afterward. The beauty of networking events is the thrill that goes with identifying a target and then determining the best way to make sure that you have occasion to meet him or her. The very nature of networking events means that you don’t have to come up with a reason to speak to someone, other than to introduce yourself and learn about their business -- that is the whole point of the gathering.

If networking is so effective, why does it cause anxiety among so many people? Fear of rejection or being perceived as boring or overly pushy are some common reasons. But for those interested in making authentic connections with people and learning something about them, there is no better opportunity.

Here are a few additional tips for getting the most from your networking activities and casting your “net” for success.

  • Before a networking event, ask organizers for a list of attendees. Identify target prospects beforehand and check them out on LinkedIn to identify possible connection points and put a face with a name. Visit their company website to understand their business, read their recent news and accomplishments and learn about their customers and partners. This makes it far easier to spot someone among the crowd, as lighting and name tags with small print can make identification by name badge a very difficult task.
  • Set a goal for the number of target prospects you want to meet ahead of time. If you believe that engaging in 10 introductory conversations will yield two or three follow-ups, then establish that goal and commit to making it happen during the event.
  • Don’t forget to relax. You’re not there to sell anything on the spot, you’re merely there to learn more about other people and make a handful of potentially good connections. I have found that a genuine smile and good listening skills can produce some highly productive results.
  • Demonstrate interest and enthusiasm. People love people who are interested in them. Listen and ask questions. Your goal should be to engage folks in conversation and build rapport, while at the same time assessing the probability of a business relationship or worthwhile referral contact.
  • Finally, don’t let the trail go cold. Once the initial contact has been made, stay in touch with people even if they aren’t prospects. You never know when you might need that connection. Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. But you won’t win if you don’t get into the race.

Remember, as Woody Allen is credited with saying, 80% of success is showing up.