Beyond the card exchange

If you think that you’ll get noticed at a meeting or convention by schmoozing with colleagues or potential clients, think again. Getting the most out of networking requires both strategy and action.

Peter Wright, president of The Planning Group, says that it’s important to ask: “How can we get more value out of meetings and conferences? How can we leverage these experiences with a little advance planning?”

When he posed these questions to board members of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) at a strategy planning session two years ago, it wasn’t long before he was delivering a session on networking at the association’s annual conference in Fredericton, N.B.

Planning is key. “While any conference offers a number of benefits, including seminars and workshops, networking is the single item that will deliver the most value over the long term. And it’s the only thing at a conference that you can fully control. However,” Wright says, “if you don’t plan to network effectively, you are wasting a great opportunity.” Bottom line: networking is more than socializing.

Wright believes that effective networking can lead to everything from new knowledge to new skills, new customers, new best practices, a new employee, a new way of problem-solving … even new business partnerships. He offers the following planning basics:

1. Look through the list of speakers and decide who you want to meet. Send them an email saying you’d like to meet at the conference.

2. Think of two people you’d like to bring together. Copy them both on an email and say you’ll introduce them. Karma works great in networking.

3. At the event, have scores of business cards; set a personal target for the number of business cards you will bring home. Seriously.

4. Pick a networking partner before the conference; make a plan to network at the conference together.

5. Analyze the conference registration list and target five people you intend to reconnect with and five people you intend to meet for the first time.

Then what? The networking guru adds, “While you are at the event, the number one rule is: be unselfish. Rescue a wallflower, extend a closed circle, give glowing introductions.” Other tips include: If you don’t like talking about yourself, ask questions; sit beside a stranger; hang out by the food table.

You’ll also have homework to do after the meetings. Follow up religiously! Pass on every article, website, whitepaper and resource that you promised. And remind people of their promises — once. Then follow up on at least one “let’s have dinner the next time you’re in town.”

After the TMAC session, one of the board members had this to say: “I thought I knew a lot about networking and consider myself an experienced networker. But I learned so much in this session that it has changed my approach to networking.”

Wright concludes, “A little planning goes a long way.”

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