When was the last time you attended a networking event?
No, not those that appear on your smartphone as a LinkedIn group chat – attending a real, in-person networking events with rooms full of people?
You’d be forgiven for assuming they’re simply not worth it in the digital age, but you’d be surprised by how business networking events are still taking the commercial world by storm.
Despite this, it’s possible you still need plenty of convincing. And that’s fine – consider this your guide to why it really is worth attending networking events.
Are networking events worth it?
If networking events were out of vogue or old-hat, they’d have disappeared with the fax machine. In reality, they’re absolutely booming.
This is for several reasons. Firstly, attending networking events remains the best way to make meaningful connections with people in your industry. Face-to-face communication beats that of the digital variety hands-down, but it’s all too easily dropped for the latter.
Secondly, traditional networking events give you the opportunity to build your personal brand. This admittedly over-used term is actually incredibly important in the digital age; if you want to create a persona for both you and your business that’s worth investing in, you need to leave the desk behind and get out there.
Attending networking events also gives you the opportunity to meet people who may not be quite so vocal online. For instance, a potential supplier, partner or even customer may appear at a networking event but nowhere on your LinkedIn feed.
Are networking events a waste of time?
This is probably the most common misconception about networking events, sometimes for good reason.
Traditional networking can be a waste of time if you go about them the wrong way. There’s a long list of things you shouldn’t do at networking events (we’ll get onto that in due course), but providing you sidestep those errors, you’ll make the most of this particular trip out of the office.
Networking events are a waste of time when you go along simply to get out of the office, or to grab a free coffee and buffet. But, then, so is an hour spent on LinkedIn when you’re doing nothing more than comparing the number of connections you have with a competitor.
To ensure networking isn’t a waste of time, you need to invest time in making the most of these events. Do that, and even if you find yourself in that room for an entire day, it’ll be one of your most productive, valuable days of the week.
Benefits of business networking events
So, we’re starting to get you interested in the prospect of attending a networking event. Let’s consider some of the benefits they offer.
Get fresh ideas. One of the best things about networking? You’ll meet people who will leave you with countless ideas for business growth, pivots and how to tackle industry issues.
Strengthen your business connections. This is probably the primary benefit of business networking; do it often enough and you’ll build a brilliant database of genuinely useful business connections.
Find job or partnership opportunities. Looking for a business partner or a change of career? You might find a new, exciting direction at a networking event.
Learn more about your industry. Get your conversation starters right, and you’ll pick up information about your industry that you never knew existed.
Acquire speaking opportunities. Want to be on the speaking circuit? Networking events might provide your first opportunity to finally make it onto that stage.
Build your confidence. If you’re a natural introvert (so many of us are), there are few better ways to build your confidence than to continually walk into a networking event room with your head held high.
Get a different perspective on a hot topic. If there’s a burning topic in your industry (there usually is), a networking event will provide lots of different perspectives on it to help you form your own.
Find an answer to a burning question. Similar as above: what question do you want answering? Someone at the next local networking event might hold the answer.
The above only skims the surface, but represents the key benefits of networking events that make them hard to ignore.
How to make the most of networking at events
The key to a successful networking event from your perspective will relate to a few things:
- the location;
- the attendees;
- the topics up for discussion; and
- the type of networking event.
Before you go, try and find out as much about the above as possible. For instance, if you can identify two or three people you absolutely need to talk to, you can make a beeline for them before the day is out and ensure you get maximum value.
Also, make sure you have plenty of business cards to hand, because you’ll need them.
Go in with your head held high and with a non-sales mindset. This is all about talking to people about the industry and sharing your knowledge – it’ll become addictive.
What not to do at networking events
There are so many networking event faux pas, but some are more common than others.
It might be true that you can often learn from mistakes, but the following bullet points are networking event errors you really should leave at the door:
- Attempting to sell at every given opportunity;
- Handing your business card out to literally everyone (you’ll only run out when you need them the most);
- Taking your CV along;
- Bragging about how amazing your business is;
- Only attending for the free food;
- Dropping out of a conversation early to talk to someone more important; and
- Failing to listen and ask lots of questions.
It’s easy to make the mistakes above, so keep this list handy and have a quick read through it before you head into any networking event.
Still think networking is a waste of time?
When looking at your diary next, try to identify at least one day each month where you can reserve time to spend at a local networking event. Use the tips above to make sure it becomes one of the most important, productive days you spend out of the office.