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The thought of going to a networking event can cause anxiety for even the most extroverted individuals. Networking events aren’t just your typical social events. There are expectations. Expectations to make connections and build relationships. So how do you make the most out of a networking event? Here are some tips.

Know your goals
What do you want to accomplish by going to the event? Write down three things you want to achieve and plan out a strategy on how to accomplish them. Do you want to meet someone specific from a certain company or are you just interested in meeting new people in general? Do you want to meet people who can help you find a new position or people who might become customers? Planning ahead and executing are the keys to success for anything in life.

Do your research
First and foremost, know the event you will be attending. Is it an industry group or a job fair? Whether you are attending by choice and already know something about it or you are required to attend, do your research. Learn as much as possible about the event and the attendees. The more prepared you are the more success you will have.

Search the news
Do research on the companies that will be represented. Use Google News to search for current headlines, especially if there are a few companies that are of particular interest to you. You will not only impress the other attendees but you will get much more out of the event and conversation will flow more easily if you have something relevant and timely to discuss.

Show up early
Showing up early to a social event may sound counterintuitive; no one wants to be the first one to arrive. But when you are talking about networking, it’s really the best approach. The later you show up, the more likely it is that people will have already formed groups and the more difficult it will be for you to meet others. Show up early and strike up conversations with others who have yet to start socializing.

People are naturally attracted to others who smile. This is the first step in starting up any conversation.

Ask don’t tell
It has been said that a person’s favorite thing to talk about is themselves. Take advantage of this and ask questions. Stay away from the potential minefields of politics and religion, and be careful to not ask personal questions such as “are you married” or “do you have children.” Open-ended questions like “tell me about yourself” or “what do you do at XYZ Company” are more effective and won’t result in embarrassing silences.

Remember that you only learn when others are speaking. By putting the other person at ease and encouraging them to talk about their career and interests, you are more likely to learn something that will help you find a commonality and a way to meaningfully connect with them. Focus on asking lots of questions and less on telling others about yourself.

No sales pitch
You are not there to sell yourself, at least not directly. Take an interest in others and they will eventually take an interest in you. This is when you can start to sell yourself. If you start the sales pitch right away you will end up standing in the corner by yourself within a very short time.

Understand what you have to offer
Know what it is that you have to offer the group. If it’s unique, even better. Make sure you can talk about it in a way that benefits others, especially those in the networking group. Be brief and concise. If others want to know more they will ask.

This is where you can take advantage of technology. When you meet someone you want to develop a longer term relationship with, ask if you can connect on Linkedin right there. Pull out your smart phone and send the invitation to connect from the Linkedin app that you will make sure is installed on your phone before the event! It’s an easy way to demonstrate that you are prepared.

Follow up
Always follow up. Use email or Linkedin to thank people for their time and to let them know what a pleasure it was meeting them. The networking event was just the beginning. You now need to make sure you turn those connections into lasting relationships.

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