How To Prepare For Networking In Person Again
Sooner or later, in-person networking events will return. One survey published in early July found that only 13% of planners were not working on planning in-person events at that time. While the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases might thwart some of these efforts in the coming months, we will eventually be connecting face-to-face once again. And the time to prepare is now.
After more than a year of making connections via Zoom, getting back to making connections in real life might seem exciting—but also intimidating, especially if those activities have always given you the jitters. Is working a room like riding a bike? Will you engage with people effortlessly, or at least the same way you did before? Or are you doomed to stand out as the professional who couldn’t make the leap to the next normal?
Before you overthink it, consider rehearsing a few strategies that will ease your re-entry into the world of in-person networking events. These tactics can help:
1. Do your homework.
Getting to know everything you can about an event and its attendees beforehand can help ease any uncertainties. Planning ahead can also help you make the most of your time at the event.
Find all the information you can online as soon as you register for a gathering—or even when you see one you think you might be interested in attending. Have the organizers established a theme or a key topic? Does the venue have an interesting history or location? Create a list of speakers, influencers, vendors, or any other attendees that pique your interest. Prioritize who you want to connect with. Let this serve as your game plan to help you focus your networking efforts once you’re there.
After you know who you want to meet, research each person online. Check their social feeds to get a peek into their interests, check their LinkedIn profiles for recent career updates or industry news they care about and Google them to see whether any other relevant news pops up. Seek out connection points you could potentially use to spark conversations. For instance, maybe you both have the same alma mater or studied abroad. Small talk is much easier when you have a few tidbits stored in the back of your mind.
2. Refresh and refine your elevator speech.
It’s likely been quite some time since you’ve given your elevator pitch in person. It’s time to bring it out of storage and dust it off. Your pitch should still be a brief overview of what you do, and it should highlight why others should care, but remember that personal branding emphasizes how you do what you do. You should be able to get your message across in under a minute. Emphasize what makes you unique, ensuring that you can hold the attention of the person on the other side of the conversation. Memorable elevator pitches are like bite-sized, verbal iterations of your résumé that allow you to infuse a little personality into every greeting.
Before an in-person event, practice saying your elevator pitch out loud. Imagine yourself in a few different scenarios, and deliver slightly different versions of the pitch. For example, if a connection feels more casual, try bringing it up more conversationally. If someone has a more formal style, think about how you would deliver the pitch in a strictly professional manner. The more you get comfortable saying it in different ways, the easier it will be to deliver and adjust as needed when you’re in person.
3. Dust off your LinkedIn profile.
If you’ve been in the same job and haven’t done much virtual networking since the start of COVID-19, chances are your LinkedIn has remained largely untouched. If that’s true, it’s time to give it some polish (and get in the habit of always keeping it fresh and up-to-date).
Most people could stand to give their LinkedIn profiles a little attention: One report shows that only about half of the members have even completed their profiles. Yet complete profiles bring in about 20 times more views than incomplete ones. If you’re researching other attendees on LinkedIn before an event, you can guess that they’re doing the same to you—so make sure your profile is up-to-date with your complete work history and background. Spend extra time on your About—it will be the most-read version of your bio. And be sure to have a high-quality, recent photo. You want other attendees to be able to find and connect with you online with ease, and your photo will help.
4. Go into events with both a purpose and an open mind.
Having a clear purpose for attending the event can also help you stay focused and use your networking time to its fullest potential. Are you going to generate business, find another employer, grow some brand recognition, stay current on the latest developments in your field, or something else? If you’re clear about why you’re there, you can jump at relevant opportunities more quickly—something Pam Kosanke, global marketing leader for EOS Worldwide, says is key to getting the most out of networking events.
“Whenever you attend a networking event, make sure you’re actually ready to make a deal if the opportunity presents itself,” she wrote in an article for Women 2.0. “In general, you should be ready to pay for help or ask for funding. Don’t be shy, and never apologize for wanting to succeed.” In other words, have confidence in what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and what you want.
Even though it’s important to have an objective, it’s equally important to keep an open mind—you never know what could happen as you make new acquaintances and learn new things. Leave the door ajar for unexpected opportunities.
As much as we’ve all adapted during the pandemic and learned to connect remotely, there’s simply no perfect replacement for connecting face to face. Prepare ahead of time, and you’ll be ready to put your best face forward.
William Arruda is a keynote speaker, author, co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and creator of the LinkedIn Profile Type Indicator (LPTI) which measures your LinkedIn profile likability and credibility.