Tips for Networking Events: Are they Worthwhile?

Advertising is expensive. Word of mouth referrals are coveted but not always forthcoming. A good, cost-effective way of marketing your business is through networking with others. But it's often done too poorly to be effective. In this "no holds barred" article, we illuminate networking: what it is and what it could be.

I recently attended a networking event. I haven’t been to one in a while and within a few minutes of arriving, I remembered why that was.

Yes, this is an unapologetic (and slightly scathing) review of networking events in general. They can be good, they have so much potential to be great, but they end up falling short.

Here’s what I saw when I arrived at this particular networking event (which was a carbon copy of the last networking event from nearly 5 years ago): Many people had set up booths and offered contests where they would draw a business card out of a fishbowl and give away a prize. Each booth was run by one person while the other person walked around and stuffed business cards in each fishbowl. Some did not have booths at all.

Do I remember anyone I met? Does anyone I met remember me? What products were shown? What services were shown? The big question: what value was it? I ask this because at the end of the day, what did we all come away with? Those with booths came away with fishbowls stuffed with business cards. Presumably, these cards would enter the leads process and would receive a call or a catalogue. Others may have left the show with a branded hat or t-shirt or golf balls. Most of us will go back to our lives with very little to show for it.

To be honest, the networking event seemed like it was just a couple hours out of the office for many of the attendees, something they were doing on the way home.

I realize that I’m not going to make some sweeping changes to the concept of network marketing (by that I mean business to business networking, not the pseudonym for MLM). After the event, I sat in my car and jotted some notes about how it could have been a better use of the attendee’s time.

In a fairly unabridged format, here are my thoughts and recommendations, sort of a networking manifesto for those who want to see a better version:

  • Can I recall a single person I met? (Faces, names, but no valuable connection to a business).
  • More importantly, can anyone remember me or what I do? The room was loud, we were rushed, and it seemed more like a card-trading convention than a networking (“getting to know each other”) event. It reminded me of the speed-dating events you see on television: everyone gets just a couple minutes without any meaningful conversation resulting.
  • I put business cards in every fishbowl in the hopes of winning a prize; so did everyone else. Are we now going to get calls from businesses whose products we have no use for? I don’t mind that for businesses whose products I use, but what about for the SuperVac? I don’t want or need another vacuum cleaner.
  • What would a better event look like? Fewer fishbowls! What about a list of the type of relationship each business was looking for (customer, vendor, affiliate, venture partner, etc.). Maybe we should all be in a similar industry (but not competitors) rather than scattered all over. A networking event for the computer industry, for example, to connect hardware and software and IT people, etc.
  • If I go to one of these in the future, I promise to:
    • Be the most memorable person there.
    • Give out more than business cards.
    • Forget the fishbowls and target the people at the booths.
    • Develop a powerful 15 second presentation about what I do.
    • Know exactly the types of people I want to meet and the relationships/partnerships I want to come away with at the end.

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