How to get the most out of networking events

My best 3.5 tips

An image from the Upstate Business Journal's latest "Biz on Tap" gathering at WXYZ Bar in the Aloft Hotel. Photo by Jack Robert Photography

By Doug Campbell

Doug Campbell

If you haven’t noticed, networking events have taken over Greenville. You can go to one just about any day of the business week, and often more than one.

Some events are better than others, but there is always a chance that you could make a great connection if you know what you’re doing.

I go to every one that I possibly can. If you have been to a networking event in the Upstate, there is a good chance you’ve seen me. Since I go to so many, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to get the most out of them.

Here are my 3.5 best tips for you frequent networkers out there:

1. Have big-picture goals

If your only objective is to get immediate business at a networking event, you are setting yourself up for failure. Not only that, you are going to annoy a lot of people. If you go to an event and don’t get any deals done, it is still a success. Why? Because you still made connections.

I have had multiple people tell me that they met me at a networking event a year ago (or longer), and now they are ready to do business. Networking success is not just measured by immediate ROI. The most successful business people play the long game, not the short game. You never know how a random connection today might turn into big business tomorrow.

Don’t underestimate the power of planting seeds. Having big-picture goals can also help you overcome the social anxiety that people sometimes get at networking events. When big-picture success is your goal, there is much less pressure on every interaction.

2. Look to give, not just get

This may be counterintuitive, but the more you give, the more you get — at least in the long run (see tip No. 1). The best networkers aren’t there just to make a sale. They connect people to others, they try to help, and they give off positive energy. This strategy is not just about being a good person, although that is one of the side benefits. Sometimes building your personal brand is more valuable than actually making an immediate sale. Give, give, give.

3. Don’t flirt

Networking events are usually full of professional, successful (or soon to be successful) people. What a great place to try to find someone to date, right? Wrong. The purpose of these events is to mingle for business purposes. If you are there with dating on your mind, you are going to be annoying. Cupid could strike any time or place, I get it. I realize that it is possible that you make a love connection at a networking event.

If you are there specifically looking, though, you are just being a creep — no matter how gentlemanly or ladylike you are with your methods. And if you absolutely feel like you must make some kind of move, please be sure that you are doing it with as much class as possible.

3.5 Stop worrying so much

This one gets only half of a tip because it is very similar to No. 1 (Have big-picture goals.). I think it deserves its own separate space, though. Social anxiety is a real problem for a lot of people, and networking events can definitely trigger it.

I think the biggest cause of this kind of anxiety is focusing too much on the now instead of on the big picture. If you look at every interaction at a networking event as a chance to pass or fail, you will stress yourself out with worry.

Instead of doing that, it’s better to think of every person you meet as a chance to gain information. Would they be a good fit for my business? Is there some way that I can help them? Is there some way they could help me? It’s all just information. Nothing more.

When you think of your interactions this way, you will realize that some of them will produce a good connection, some won’t. It’s just simple math. So, why worry about it? That’s just how it is.

Doug Campbell is a communication coach and trainer in the Greenville area and a graduate of Furman University. He teaches individuals and teams how to be at their best in career-related social situations. Get in touch with him at [email protected]

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