Everyone is busy, and simply finding time for networking is difficult enough without having to plan it – but if we don’t plan, then that valuable time may be wasted. Try not to be reactive. Look at all the possible networking opportunities and make some serious decisions about which are likely to deliver contacts of interest or are likely to enhance your exposure to the right audience. Then plan those out over a workable timescale.Don’t try to do every available event – you won’t get the most out of them if they are chores. Do diary them and don’t just slot them in when you have time.  Then plan before you set out to the event:

  1. Plan what you want to get out of the event. Just turning up is not enough. If you want to make the most of your time, spend a couple of minutes thinking what would be a real result – then focus on achieving it.
  2. Plan what people will get from you. Have you thought out your proposition? A coach I often work with will say to his clients; “I don’t know who you are or what you do – I’ve got 90 seconds, why should I do business with you?” You will usually have a bit longer than that – but not much. So think: what is great about what you do or make; what is great about your company and what is the real benefit someone will get out of doing business with you. We’ve all heard about the elevator pitch – well try to have a 90 second version and a three minute version. Please don’t ramble on for 15 minutes.
  3. Prepare – look at the delegate list if you can beforehand. Try to identify the really useful contacts and look out for them – and don’t be afraid to tell them you were looking for them. It’s very flattering to be told; “I saw your name on the list and I was hoping to speak to you.” Also check on the organizers names -make yourself known:  at the very least they will be able to introduce you to your target contacts.
  4. Prepare – the obvious: it should not need to be said, but make sure you have sufficient business cards, and a pen and notepad. Not everyone will have (or offer) cards. You may need to make notes when you get a minute.
  5. Dress for the occasion – if you feel comfortable you will look and be relaxed.
  6. Plan your exit strategies. We have all been trapped by somebody who will not let us go and who is not part of our target group. Prepare a couple of polite and sensitive excuses to go and speak with somebody else.

Remember to evaluate: when you get back, review your objective – did you get what you wanted from the event? If not, why – was it you; was it just bad luck or was it the wrong event? If it was you – learn and plan how to get better results next time. If it was bad luck – the people you wanted to see did not make it, the weather was bad or the event clashed – well just chalk that one down to experience. If it was the wrong event, with the wrong people, return to your networking plan and seriously consider whether you should go again. Your time is precious – revise you schedule to get the most out of your networking plan.