You can make the most out of meet-and-greet opportunities if you balance a little advance planning with the flexibility required to forge new and unexpected connections.
As an entrepreneur, you may find navigating large networking events overwhelming and even unproductive if you aren't prepared. Given our experience, below are five tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your time (as well as the time of the people you meet):
1. Do your homework.
Utilize all the resources at your disposal to determine which events are relevant and interesting to you, given the topic as well as the people attending. After determining which event to attend, map out a plan to make the most of your time there. Leverage existing relationships for introductions to individuals who are attending whom you'd like to meet. Let your social networks on Twitter or LinkedIn know in advance that you'll be attending--it's a great way to turn online relationships into real-life connections.
2. Allow for spontaneity.
Though it's important to plan ahead, it's also wise to leave room for meeting people you might not otherwise connect with or learning things you didn't know. Maintaining an open mind--and an open schedule--has led to significant opportunities for our firm that we might not have even had on our radar a couple of years ago.
3. Get your elevator speech down.
It may seem obvious, but being able to clearly articulate what you are trying to accomplish or what you have to offer is an extremely important part of the networking process. The key is to make every introduction memorable to ensure you're not forgotten the minute you walk away.
4. Ask the right questions.
You can gain a better understanding of each person's needs and motivations by practicing active listening and asking relevant questions. By consistently looking to collaborate and create win-win situations, you might be able to help in ways you hadn't planned. We often find that making introductions across your existing network to set up the right people is one of the greatest networking tools available.
5. Follow up.
While you have the momentum from a face-to-face meeting, be sure to follow up in a timely manner for a business meeting or even lunch. Not every relationship will lead to business, but you could still be able to open doors for each other elsewhere. Keeping the dialogue open can lead to opportunities down the road.
By following these simple tips, you can efficiently navigate networking events to enhance your personal brand and network while still having some fun in the process.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark