Just like the first snowdrops of spring, we are beginning to see the tentative signs of business networking events re-emerge from the Covid winter. It may be premature, but why not dream… or if you prefer the relative anonymity and safety of Zoom, maybe the idea of meeting up with people face-to-face, in actual real life, again is more like a nightmare!
Either way, lockdown won’t last forever. And the truth is that we learn better and do better business when we can meet people in person.
If you have more time on your hands, due to furlough or reduced business, it will pay to use this time wisely and plan ahead for better times. Make plans now for the associations and events that you would like to make more of when the time comes. Reflect on your experience of similar events in the past. What could you have done better? How can you prepare to get more out of these events in future? Here are our top tips.
Obviously, every business conference will be different with different goals and purposes, but they all have a few things in common. These are that they are a great place to exchange ideas, converse with other business-minded individuals, grow your personal network and promote both yourself and your company. To what extent you achieve these goals is down to you: the more you put in the more you will get back.
It is important to plan your aims and objectives for the event. Have a clear list of goals for the event and tactics for achieving each one. Time can fly at events like this where there is a lot happening and you will not want to come away with any regrets and not make the most out of the experience, so you should think about what you want to achieve and how you will go about doing this.
Find out who will be there in advance. Often the organisers will circulate the delegate list in advance, or delegates will use the conference hashtag to advertise their intention on Twitter. Make a list of people you want to connect with and contact them in advance to arrange time for a meeting.
Explore the city. Business events can be a great opportunity to see the World or a new town. Don’t let it become a fog of airports and hotels. Build in a few extra days to make it a more enriching experience. For example, if you are in London, book into a serviced apartment and see the sights in your downtime.
Follow up. Write a brief report of what you’ve learned at the event, even if just for yourself, it will reinforce learning and act as an aide-memoire. Also follow-up on all the contacts you made and at the very least connect on Linkedin, or send a quick, friendly and helpful email.
You should also bring positive energy and an open mind to these events. They can be intimidating, but there are lots of opportunities that can present themselves and being friendly, approachable and communicative will help you to make the most of these.
Try not to come over as pushy. Yes, you sensibly have objectives, but if you want to achieve them then how you network is as important as why. Make sure that you listen to others and get to know them a bit before you promote your own aims. This is why ice breakers and small talk can be useful.
Don’t be cheap. Sure, business events often have lots of freebies, but don’t get carried away filling your bag with mousemats, pens and biscuits. You have bigger fish to fry! Also, dress for how you want to be perceived. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune, but it does mean avoiding that anonymous ill-fitting grey suit. What are your brand values? They are probably not ‘drab, boring and mousy’ and so neither should you be.
Don’t focus just on quantity. Equally as important as the number of connections that you make is the depth and quality of connections with the right people. There is more benefit to connecting with a small number of very appropriate contacts than putting your business card into the hands of everyone there.
Zoom has its benefits, but for making new connections you can’t beat the value of face-to-face networking at a business conference. Hopefully, in a post-Covid world, we will have more of a balance between the two. Let’s hope we attend fewer, but better events in person, and that we take a more strategic approach to preparing for and making the most out of the travel and events that we do choose to attend.