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  • Written by Rhiannon Mason
  • Last modified on 03 May 2021

How to prepare for a networking event

How to prepare for a networking event

As a small business owner or sole trader, you know how important it is to surround yourself with like-minded people. Whether it’s collaboration with peers, meeting potential contractors, or exploring prospective leads, building a professional network can greatly benefit your business. But ‘networking’ can feel confronting and scary. What do you say? How do you overcome the anxiety of ‘putting yourself out there’?

There’s a bit of preparation involved if you want to make a good impression, especially if you’ve never been, or it’s been a long time since you last joined a networking event. We’re hoping these few tips help you to relax and enjoy your networking experience.

 

 Image by Priscilla du Preez of people at cafe networking and eating lunch together

Plan your attendance at a networking event

Let’s start with the basics. Your preparation should start with where/when/how. These days with more virtual events on offer, making sure you’ve got the right online platform adds another dimension to your planning.

After misreading the calendar invitation, I’ve been happily waiting in a Google meet chat room while my contact was frustrated I hadn’t called at the stated time… gah!

  • Do you have the software needed to connect to your virtual meeting?
  • Have you adjusted for the timezone of the meeting host’s location?
  • Or if it’s an in-person meeting, checking the address, your transport options, travel time and parking options are all very important.

You’ll usually find all this information in a confirmation email (check your junk mail if you don’t see it straight away).

Will you need to register beforehand? When numbers are limited, you might miss out if you haven’t planned ahead. Even online meetings can have capped numbers.

Some networking opportunities are paid events. Check if you need to buy a ticket.

TIP: Have a look at the cost of membership to that organisation. If you’re thinking you might like to go to several events in future, e.g. they have a great speaker line-up or it’s an industry organisation, consider joining upfront for free or discount events.

Making connections at your next networking event

Who’ll be going to this event? If it’s a virtual event, for example in a business group, you might be able to look up the attendees online. You might find others you know, or are keen to meet.

That brings us to your “why”. It’s really important to go to a networking event with a goal in mind. Are you hoping to learn something from the speaker? Looking to find potential clients? Hoping to connect with other business owners in your field, or with complementary services, for collaboration and referrals?

"What do you mean, it’s not just about the cheese platter and drinks?!"

Keeping your goal in mind will help you prepare by:

  • practising your ‘elevator pitch’ (20-second introduction) for prospective clients
  • reading up on the guest speaker’s topic so you have context
  • reflecting on what kind of referral partners might help you in your business

How will you establish new connections and start building relationships?

  • Business cards can be a convenient option. Check you have plenty in stock.

TIP: Business cards are a handy way to exchange contact details AFTER you’ve spoken. Don’t be that person thrusting a card out before you’ve even met!

  • LinkedIn is ideal for connecting with new contacts online. It’s a good idea to brush up your LinkedIn profile before the event.
  • Facebook. Exchanging ‘likes’ on business pages can be a great way to keep in touch with contacts and show support for each other’s businesses.

What to wear, and what’s back there

At the time of writing, nearing the end of 2020, we’re a bit out of practice at in-person meetings here in Victoria. Don’t forget to check the weather so you have the right gear. (Get back into the habit of packing an umbrella for our more temperamental days!)

If the formality of the event isn’t clear from the invitation (and what on earth is ‘business casual’ anyway?) you could ask the host. With a bit of luck, the organisation you’re joining will have plenty of photos of past events online for you to check what kind of attire is appropriate. It’ll help with your comfort at the event to be somewhat in sync with how formal or casual the crowd is.

For online events, sure it’s ‘business up top, party on the bottom – you do you! – but you have another consideration (shhh… it’s behind you!). What’s your background view?

The way many of us have been working at home this year has meant ‘anything goes’ and seeing your home life in the background of a video call is much more acceptable now. We’re humans. It’s a good idea, though, to keep the conversation focused on you and what you’re saying, so it’s ideal to place your back to a plain wall, with the light coming from in front of you. Being backlit, with cluttered backgrounds, adds unnecessary distraction to what can be an important time to make a good impression.

Group at networking event sitting around a table, male and female shake hands.

Ready for your next networking event in Melbourne?

After following these preparation tips, you’re all set.

Still nervous? Why not come along to the next VSBN Grow Your Network event? Joining a facilitated session where the hosts actively introduce and create connections is the ideal way to start. You’ll be welcomed and looked after during the event, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated or nervous.

And, if you’re keen to continue building professional relationships with attendees – we recommend it – you can opt in to have your contact information circulated to the event participants for you. Building a network just got easier!

What to bring to your networking event:

  • Your device (fully charged) – for staying connected at a virtual meeting, or for making those all-important LinkedIn connections on your phone
  • Your ticket if you needed to register
  • Business cards if you prefer – remember they’re for follow-up once you’ve spoken
  • If still needed indoors, grab a COVID-safe face mask
  • Take some deep breaths
  • Run through your ‘elevator pitch’ one last time
  • Smile

You’ve got this!

Over to you 

Join the Victorian Small Business Network today and get connected.