Written by Charlotte Duckworth

The art of networking events: strategies for success

31st October, 2023   •   3 mins

Our approach to networking events is often haphazard and half-hearted. 

We find ourselves arriving at an event we don’t really want to attend, we’re late and we’re not sure who’s going to be there. We walk into the room and people are already talking, we get a drink, check our phone, look at the time and wonder, how quickly is it acceptable to leave…? 

Many of us would say that we do not like networking. We sometimes associate it with being pushy, overbearing and inauthentic. It can feel overwhelming to walk into a room of unknowns, we find it draining and disappointing if we leave after a few slightly random conversations. We think “why bother?” 

This blog looks at why we should move away from this mindset, sharing strategies to improve our networking approach and a structure to have really valuable conversations.  

What counts as networking? 

A common misconception is that networking has to involve a big event swarming with people. Of course, this isn’t the case. Networking can include attending roundtables, career and trade fairs, workshops, coffee catch ups and even speed-networking (similar to speed-dating!).

Networking also includes strengthening relationships within your existing network. From a sales perspective, research shows that the probability of making a sale to an existing customer is between 60 and 70%. This drops to 5 to 20% for a new client. We can undervalue the success in uncovering new opportunities within our current connections.

Having said that, there is a strong case for attending events to grow our network and expand our business and job opportunities.

The benefits of networking

Seventy-eight percent of entrepreneurs agree that networking is crucial to startup success.  There is mountains of research to show that having a large professional network develops and strengthens knowledge, opportunities for advancement, innovation, as well as business and personal prospects. And thankfully, building your network is a skill that grows with dedication and practice.

Where to start 

Improving our approach to networking events starts with a shift in mindset. Two shifts in mindset, in fact. 

The first is to move from being interesting, to being interested

Often we’re worried about what to say and how we present ourselves, when the most valuable action we can take is to actively listen. Approaching the event with curiosity and an open mind, we can see conversations as an opportunity to discover and learn. 

The second mindset shift is from what we can take to how we can help.

We try to ‘get something out of it’ when we attend networking events and it can leave us feeling inauthentic. Focusing on how we can help reframes this to what we can offer to others in the form of knowledge, expertise, access or resource.

Your networking approach: The three part process 

Before: Preparation 

  • Research and block events ahead of time – focus on quality over quantity and commit to key events in your calendar
  • Research who will be there – go to events where you know key contacts are likely to attend!
  • Message key people ahead of time – If you know someone who plans to attend, write a short message saying that you look forward to seeing/meeting them, so that they are primed to look out for you
  • Practice articulating what you do and how it is relevant to them – Say it out loud, include your role and tailor how you might help to the context or theme of the event. Consider your most relevant stories (or even client case studies) for the group attending and have a summary front of your mind
  • Refine your social media – Is your LinkedIn professional and up-to-date? 
  • Set a goal – This is important. It gives you a focus. Perhaps it’s to have three really valuable conversations, or maybe it’s connect with three people in your industry who you can follow up with 

The core takeaway from this preparation stage is to take the time to prepare! Commit to the event and set yourself up for success by doing your research and considering how what you do is relevant and helpful to others.

During: How to open a conversation 

  • Arrive early – It is easier to join in when there are just a few people and you can then welcome others to the event
  • Put your name badge on the right – It is more visible when you shake their hand and makes you stand out
  • Be present – Put your phone on silent and commit to being there with a smile and open body language 
  • Approach a small group and open a conversation by 
    • Introducing yourself succinctly with your name and a line of context about you. This could be your role and how you help your clients 
    • Ask questions to learn more about them, “What made you decide to come to the event today?”
    • As they share more about what they do you can identify commonalities. You might be able to share a relevant story linking to themes they mention
    • If you think there is a potential opportunity to work together, ask if you can continue the discussion another time, ask for a card or use your LinkedIn QR code 
    • Continue to build the relationship, you can discuss other topics, themes and learn more about them personally
    • To finish the conversation on a positive note  you can share that you’ve enjoyed speaking with them, that there are a couple of other people you are hoping to catch up with and that you will be in touch!

The above flow of conversation would be a really positive result and things won’t always come together this way. We usually put too much pressure on winning conversations so instead go to listen, ask questions and learn about the other person. You will have better quality conversations and make a lasting positive impression that may help you in future.

After: Follow up 

  • Connect on LinkedIn – Connect to everyone you had a valuable conversation with so that they are reminded of you when you post in future
  • Follow up within 24 hours – Either over email or LinkedIn message and include something personal from your conversation for them to remember you by. Ask to set up a call and send through some date/time options  
  • Share about the event – Post on LinkedIn with takeaways from any keynote speakers and how much you enjoyed meeting your new connections 

The rush of life can take over once we leave an event. This also happens to everyone else that attended and sometimes you won’t receive an immediate response but be persistent and set a reminder to reach out again and catch up.

In summary 

Networking events are a great way to step out of our comfort zone, meet new people and build new connections for business and personal success. To make the most of networking events:

  1. Prepare. Research who will be there, practice sharing how you help others and set a goal to give yourself a focus to your conversations
  2. Focus on them. Ask questions, learn, be present and curious to earn the other person’s trust and understand more about their situation
  3. Follow up quickly. If there is a potential opportunity to work together then reach out after the event sharing an anecdote from your conversation and organise a follow up call 

At Higson we run workshops and training programmes to help individuals and teams to build their network and grow business opportunities. If you would like to learn more strategies to enhance your networking approach please get in touch.