Following a shift to virtual spaces over the past couple of years, association members are finally getting back to connecting in-person again. For some, this comeback will be like riding a bike, whereas for others, it could feel daunting and awkward. It’s not a one-size-fits-all members formula. However, there are a few key steps and practices that will make the experience more enjoyable and improve your chances of effectively building successful and authentic connections at your next in-person networking event. To make it simple, we divided them into three categories: before, during and after the event.
During the Time Leading Up to the Event, You Will Need to Do Your Homework.
To arrive prepared, one of the first steps will be to consult the association or event’s website and social media platforms to learn more about it, its guest speakers, exhibitors, and fellow attendees. By doing so, you will be able to find commonalities with other people in attendance and reflect on pertinent questions you would like to ask them. Also, if you are new to the association, going alone, and don’t know anyone yet, feel free to reach out to the association staff or board! By writing them prior to the event, they will remember you when you arrive and will gladly help you connect with others.
Ultimately, their goal is to ensure that you are having a good experience and will hopefully come back to their future events. This step can be time-consuming, which is why it’s important to have a plan prior to the event. Outline your goals. Do you want to meet a certain number of people, learn more about your industry, or land a new opportunity? Whatever it may be, setting yourself a clear set of networking objectives will enable you to make strategic decisions.
On the Day of the Association Event
On the day of the event, take a few minutes to go over your preparation notes for a refresher and get in the right mindset. The next step is to arrive early! Often, people are afraid to be one of the first few attendees, but it’s very advantageous! For instance, you won’t need to look for parking! You’ll also be able to familiarize yourself with the layout of the event space before it gets too crowded. Also, it is the perfect opportunity to begin connecting and have genuine conversations with the few members that are there while the ambience is still quiet.
As you to continue to navigate your way through, keep in mind that networking is about the person you are talking to and the value you bring to them. Approach it the way you would a new friendship. When you meet someone new in a social setting, you won’t initiate the interaction by asking them for a favor! It should come from a place of curiosity and authenticity.
If you are feeling timid, a great strategy to get people to open to you and keep the conversation flowing is to ask them questions about themselves such as their career path, their hobbies, and interests. People tend to enjoy talking about themselves and appreciate when others display a genuine interest in getting to know them! It will be your opportunity to actively listen and respond accordingly. Remember, it’s not about working the room but rather about having quality and meaningful interactions.
If you are already a well-connected association member, my colleague’s article has some great information on How to Get the Most out of an Association Event as an Association Leader.
Networking Does Not End With the Event
What you do afterwards is a valuable step in building long-lasting reciprocal relationships because the truth is, maintaining a professional network requires time and nurturing. The good thing is that an association is already somewhat built for the purpose of networking! Your next move is to follow-up with your newly made connections. You can start on LinkedIn by sending them a connection request including a note referencing the event and your conversation.
This will ensure two things. First, you will remember the context of how you met, and second, you will show that you were genuinely listening. You can continue with small gestures to stay on their radar by liking and commenting on their posts. Share interesting articles with them or write to them when they reach milestones. These are small acts but when you are consistent, you show connections that you value and support them. In turn, this will allow your relationships to grow.
Though we will hopefully be attending more in-person association events, the likelihood is that we will continue building our network in a hybrid manner. In addition to initiating them in person, we will have to maintain them virtually. Remember that you also bring value to the table and to trust the process! When done correctly, networking is a pleasant experience.
Read my coworker’s article on the Post-Covid Return to Association Events and Travel.