It’s easy to sign up, pay, and then go to the event and get nothing out of it. Don’t do that to yourself.

Seize this networking opportunity!

You’d think in today’s cyber-connected world you wouldn’t need to leave your computer to network with great people in your field. That’s true — but only to a point. If you really want to make connections that will boost your career and help you become a part of your profession’s community, you need to get out to a few networking events.

Follow these simple professional networking tips to get the most out of your time.

Find the right networking events to attend

Nothing’s worse than signing up for an event, taking the time to go, and then realizing that the people there are not really in your field. With a few clicks of your keyboard or taps to your mobile device, it’s easy to find networking events that will benefit your career or job search. Look up a few events in your specific area of interest, and then read some reviews so you know what to expect. Picking the right networking event will make it easier for you to meet the right people and make solid connections in your profession.

Prepare your game plan

Before you go to the actual event, make sure that you’ve done your homework. It’s easier to be friendly and confident when you feel prepared.

  • Dress appropriately: Know what the expected dress code will be for the event and choose your outfit accordingly. Do you get hot or cold easily? Plan ahead so that you will be comfortable during the event.

  • Grab plenty of business cards and keep a pen handy: You don’t want to randomly hand out business cards to everyone you pass by, but you do want to have them ready for when you make a genuine connection. The pen is just as important to have around in case you need to write down someone’s contact email or number, or lend it to someone else when needed. If you’d prefer to go paperless, download an app like Evernote to your smartphone ahead of time.

  • See if you can find a list of people attending the event: Are there people from certain fields or companies that you’d like to meet? Make note of any top-priority guests that you would be interested in speaking to. If you’re attending a large conference, there might be a specific event app available for conference attendees to connect with one another.

  • Set goals for yourself that you control: Maybe you want to meet 10 new people or say “Hi” to two people from a certain company. Don’t set goals that are dependent on someone else doing something, like asking for a later meeting. Keep it simple, and keep it in your control.

  • Have your elevator pitch ready: Your elevator pitch is your 30-second speech that tells someone new who you are and what you do (and what makes you special). At a networking event, you may only have a short amount of time to make an impression, so you want to have your pitch concise.

Related: How to Deliver Your Elevator Pitch at Networking Events

Psych yourself up to be “on” during the event

Once you get to the networking event, make yourself comfortable. Don’t carry extra stuff around with you. If you get distracted by too much stuff, you won’t be able to focus on the people you meet.

  • Get out of your comfort zone: Wallflowers don’t do well at networking events. If you want to get the most out of a networking event, you have to take the initiative and say hi to other people in the room. One tip is to make note of their name tags. Is it an interesting name? Do you have experience with their company? Little things can make easy segues into conversation.

  • Practice remembering names: There are a lot of tricks out there that can help. Some people have a knack for remembering names and faces while others struggle with it. In the professional world, it is a huge benefit to be able to remember the names of the people you meet, so find what works for you and go with it.

  • Be present in the moment: Don’t scan the room for your next target while talking to someone. Don’t get lost in your own concerns or thoughts. Instead, really listen to others and take note of how they react to you. Smiles are still very valuable commodities.

  • Work the room: Don’t ditch someone who is still talking, but try not to get stuck in one conversation for too long, either. You want to meet a lot of people and they probably do, too.

  • Focus on making new connections during each conversation: This isn’t about closing a sales deal or getting a job interview. Right now, you just want to expand your network of professional acquaintances.

  • Look for ways to pay it forward: Did you just meet someone who loves their accountant 10 minutes after talking with someone who’s looking for a good one? Take a moment to introduce them. You’ll come across as a great person while helping someone out.

After the dust settles, focus on your follow-up

Once the event is done and you’ve had time to reflect, hopefully you feel good about how the networking went. Yet, it doesn’t end there. What do you do in the days after the event to make sure it wasn’t just a friendly waste of time?

  • Take an inventory of what you collected at the event: Did you get any interesting books, pamphlets, or business cards? This is a good time to filter the stuff that really speaks to you from the chaff.

  • Reach out to the people you connected with at the event within the first few days: You can send an email if you’d like, but LinkedIn is made for these type of connections. Find their profile, connect with them there, and you will also be able to find out a little bit more about your new friends. Make sure to thank them for taking the time to meet you. It’s a simple way to re-establish that connection and be thoughtful.

  • Consider your secondary goals for this event: Maybe you need to sell more product or find a new job. Now is the time to start laying the groundwork towards those goals with your new connections. If you found someone who could be a fit for what you need, see if they’ll have a lunch meeting or even talk a bit more on the phone. Be forthcoming, but polite. If they feel like you’ve only connected with them to get something from them, you may burn that bridge. Ease into it.

It’s important to keep a strong network of other professionals like you in your field — and outside of it. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you’ll know the right person at the right time that could lead to bigger things for you down the road. Professional networking events are a great way to promote your personal brand and make a few new friends, but only if you get the most out it while you’re there.

Click on the following link for more networking advice.

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