Growing your business can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you connect with the right people and seek support from professional that have been in your shoes. Attending industry events can are often part and parcel of being in business, but they are also a fantastic way to meet like-minded people, nurture your career, grow your business’ reach, and get more involved in your industry.  

You’ll only grow your business if you have a vision and plan, so know what it is you want to get out of the event and write up three clear outcomes your wish to achieve. These can be simple but should fit into the blueprint of your long term plans for success.

Whether you’re one of the key speakers, or simply looking to chat with potential contacts, it pays to do some preparation. Here are five tips to keep in mind at your first networking event:

1. Do your homework

What kind of networking event is it? Is it a small or big conference? What organisations and companies will be represented? What’s the layout and format for the night?

As with any professional scenario, it’s important to do your research beforehand. If you understand not only the nature of the event, but the people who’ll be in attendance, you’ll know which topics to discuss and which to avoid.

Come prepared with questions, icebreakers, and a few interesting stories up your sleeve. Whether you’re presenting on a panel, or you’re shuffling through the room, you’ll make a better first impression if you’ve done your homework and know what to expect.

2. Be entertaining

Think of industry events as your opportunity to shine to peers, colleagues, and potential partners. You want people to feel as passionate as you are – about your business, your thoughts about the industry, or any subject for that matter.

To be entertaining, try decorating your speech or conversations with relatable stories or engaging icebreakers. If you’re feeling nervous, practice talking about topics with friends and family before the event. Remember to embrace the moment, use positive body language, and keep a smile on your face.

3. Dress the part

The cliché rings true – first impressions count. At networking events, it’s important to feel comfortable about how you look and present yourself. This will help you focus on speaking about the things that really matter, without worrying about your appearance.

Based on your research of the event, you’ll know what kind of outfit will be appropriate. For example, the style of the people attending an event for financial leaders will be different to an event for people in the creative industries. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s better to show caution and dress cleanly and smartly.

4. Keep your ears open

Industry events are designed to connect people. Take advantage of time before and after speeches to move around the room and introduce yourself to people. Remember, you can’t connect properly without listening. On the stage or on the floor, it’s important to always listen to the people you’re talking with. Try to connect with something they say and make a note of it to follow up with in an email or call after the event – make sure you exchange cards or connect via LinkedIn.

Remember that it’s a two-way street with networking. This means instead of talking incessantly about your own life, goals and achievements, it’s important to ask open-ended questions and express interest in other people. Great listeners not only learn more, they also make lasting impressions.

5. Relax and be yourself

Many people don’t enjoy growing their network because it feels like forced interaction. While it’s important to push yourself a little, it doesn’t mean you have to forget who you are.

One of the best ways to make an impression is to be genuine. People respect authenticity. So try to relax when you’re speaking with people, breathe slowly, and showcase the lighter sides of your personality.

6. Follow up with a personal message

Have you ever made a great connection at an event and forgotten to get that person’s details? Or have you gotten those details and failed to follow up? Take a handful of business cards with you and make sure you exchange them with people you wish to keep in touch with. When someone gives you their card make sure that after speaking with them that you jot down a few details about what the two of you spoke about.

That way, when you follow up with a call, email or LinkedIn inbox message, you can add a personal touch, and it will jog their memory so they remember who you are. You’ll also be in a better position to get a response and build an ongoing business relationship with that person as your email with stand out and carry meaning.

Away you go!

With the right approach, networking events can be something to look forward to – not dread. Just keep these tips in mind and you’ll have a growing network of contacts to help you as your business grows and career progresses.