Whether it’s Pubcon or MozCon, Dreamforce, or SXSW, SEO conferences and business networking events can be a great way to freshen up your skills, tune into industry trends, and connect with other professionals.
In fact, getting the most out of networking events requires more than just listening to panels and handing out your business cards.
To maximize the benefits – whether that’s new connections, new clients, a new job, etc. – you must be an active participant rather than a passive attendee.
Here’s how to get the most out of business networking events to benefit your life, your business, and your networking goals.
1. Set Your Intentions
It may sound cheesy, but setting your intentions and goals will help you get the most out of the event.
Many of us walk into networking events and end up walking from table to table, or not connecting with anyone at all.
While staying in your comfort zone can be convenient, this doesn’t help you get the maximum benefit from the experience.
Take some time to define your objectives for the event. These might include expanding your network, forming new partnerships, landing a future speaking slot of your own, etc.
Some examples of goals to set for attending a networking event include:
- Promote your brand by engaging in discussions and sharing your business information.
- Discover new tools or strategies to incorporate into your business.
- Connect with industry thought leaders to form collaborations.
- Research industry competitors and their branding, marketing strategies, etc.
- Discover investment opportunities.
- Recruit potential employees or contractors to work with you.
- Find a business mentor.
- Share your resume with companies hiring for relevant positions.
No matter your goals, this practice can help guide your interactions and outcomes from the event.
2. Research Attendees
Before attending a business networking event, research key attendees or speakers. Most events will advertise the speakers at the event, including their businesses and accolades.
Doing some research before the event will help you make smart conversations, prepare relevant questions ahead of time, and even guide your intentions to connect with thought leaders.
You can even connect with attendees before the event, arrange to meet up for coffee, or connect at the event location.
For example, there are many Facebook groups that allow you to connect with conference-goers, ask questions, and arrange meet-ups.
3. Spruce Up Your Personal Branding
Whether you want to attract more clients or just form new connections, it’s best to have your personal branding on point so contacts know where to find you, what you do, and what your business is all about.
In the days leading up to the event, take some time to review your online profiles (website, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.) to make sure your visual branding and messaging are consistent across all platforms.
Use a professional headshot and optimize your bio to showcase your expertise, accomplishments, and services.
By sprucing up your personal branding, you’ll be in a better position to leave a lasting impression on potential clients and have contacts reach out to you directly.
4. Make Friendly Introductions
Business networking events are not like Pokemon GO – you don’t have to catch ‘em all.
When it comes to networking, it’s best to build meaningful connections instead of accumulating a ton of business cards.
This means making friendly, personable introductions and having quality conversations. It is best to cultivate relationships that could turn into potential clients or collaborators rather than leave with a bunch of random email addresses.
When connecting with new people, introduce yourself and mention why you wanted to speak with them (“I’d like to hear more about your business,” “This product looks really cool,”etc.).
Ask them questions, talk about shared interests, and, if fitting, ask for their contact information so you can stay in touch!
5. Be An Active Listener
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, business networking events feel a little self-serving.
With many people just trying to get new clients, sell their own services, or land speaking gigs, it can be easy to get caught up in “promotion mode” instead of actively listening.
Again, the key to getting the most out of networking events is to form genuine connections. Active listening – paying full attention, asking questions, and showing sincere interest – will help you form lasting relationships instead of just a few handshakes.
Who knows – you might learn about a new product, a new way to level up your services, a new niche market, etc. – all by listening to other attendees, influencers, and business owners.
6. Speak Up During Sessions
Instead of being a passive note-taker, consider speaking up and asking questions during sessions. Whether it’s a webinar, panel, or Q&A, asking questions can help you learn more about the topic or even share your own expertise.
Another way to engage is to join live chats or discussion forums (often hosted by the events themselves). Here, you can share your insights, offer advice, ask questions, and connect with other professionals.
Though less common, speaking up could also land you media attention, getting you featured in journals, articles, or interviews about the event.
7. Attend Breakout Events
A lot of networking happens outside of the conferences themselves. While it’s a good idea to attend the small group sessions at the event, don’t sleep on attending breakout events as well, such as coffee meetups or happy hour.
For example, MozCon hosts happy hour events outside the conference at local restaurants or bars. This is another way for people to connect in a more casual environment.
Virtual meetups might be an option as well. So look out for these for other opportunities to connect with people, share insights, and swap information.
8. Get Active On Social Media
Networking events and conferences can also help drive your business’s marketing efforts. With many events backed by promotional materials, hashtags, articles, and the like, you can capitalize on this momentum for your own brand.
For example, you can monitor social media for online discussion before, during, and after the event – sharing your insights and information.
Or, you could publish an article recapping your experience at the event as a way to drive traffic to your website.
“Live tweeting” is also very popular.
During sessions, you can share key takeaways, quotes, and your own insights on X (formerly Twitter) using event-specific hashtags. This can attract followers and engagement from other attendees.
9. Follow Up With New Contacts
Continue your connections by following up with contacts after the event. Depending on the contact information they provided, you can reach out via email, phone, or social media with a personalized message.
Even more, consider making plans to meet up again when you are in town or if you live in the same area. This shows initiative in keeping the connection going, which may lead to future partnerships.
Even if you don’t get a chance to meet up, you can stay in contact and periodically check in to nurture the relationship.
Share resources, insights, or ideas that align with your conversations during the event. Offer encouragement and keep the door open to future conversations and opportunities.
10. Become A Member
Many networking organizations and conferences offer membership programs to help you get more out of the events, network connections, and resources.
For example, I am a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) (a global community of chief executives) and Vistage (a CEO coaching and peer advisory organization).
As a member, I get even more access to exclusive events, resources, tools, and mentorship opportunities than I would as a regular attendee.
While this may not be an option for everyone, it may be worth the application process and/or investment to join a cohesive, reputable network.
You can build rapport with other members, form partnerships, or even become a leader yourself.
Bonus Tips For Business Networking Events
As a CEO and entrepreneur, I’ve attended my fair share of networking events – locally, nationally, and internationally.
I enjoy meeting new people, sharing insights, and catching up on industry trends.
I encourage you to get the most out of networking events by being open, genuine, and intentional about building real connections.
Here are a few bonus tips for attending business networking events:
- Be friendly: Introduce yourself with a smile and keep open body language to encourage others to connect with you.
- Practice your elevator pitch: Think of a concise yet natural introduction that communicates who you are and what you do.
- Diversify your contacts: Aim to connect with people from different industries and backgrounds to broaden your network.
- Take notes: Jot down key points from conversations or sessions to remember important details and apply them to your business.
- Bring business cards: Even for online events, digital business cards or contact details can be handy for staying in contact.
- Stay in touch: Keep track of the connections you’ve made and check in with them to keep the connection going.
Featured Image: El Nariz/Shutterstock