While we may have gotten used to doing all of our networking digitally during the pandemic, in-person networking events are becoming common once again. Making new contacts in person again may be refreshing, but it can also be intimidating after such a long pause.

Networking is still the best way to find helpful contacts to advance your career, whether it be through helpful advice, industry insight, or an in at your dream company. If you’re looking to get back in the groove of networking in person, give yourself a quick refresher on how to prepare with these proven strategies.

Do some homework

You don’t want to just show up to an event and hope for the best. Taking time before the event to research the event itself, its major themes, and who the attendees are is crucial. In addition, being prepared will help put you in the mindset for successful networking and increase your confidence.

Forbes’ William Arruda says to go online and do a deep dive on the event. You may find out crucial information like any particular topics the event will focus on, particular panels you may want to attend, and other topics of interest. Even a few fun facts about the venue or the history of the event can give you some valuable speaking points.

If you find people you really want to interact with, you can do further research on their social media profiles and LinkedIn. The more conversation points you have, the stronger connections you’ll make.

Refine your elevator pitch

Of course, don’t neglect to prepare what you can bring to the table as well. Networking is all about mutually providing value, so be prepared to cover your skills and ambitions. This is where your elevator pitch comes in.

“Time to start fine-tuning your elevator pitch. It should be bite-sized, ideally under a minute, and a brief overview of what makes you unique. A warm smile and firm handshake go a long way, especially when it comes to easing yourself into it.” –Jennifer McShane, Jobbio

An elevator is a quick, direct summary of who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and the value you can bring to someone. A good elevator pitch is brief, between 30 and 60 seconds. If you’ve been doing your networking online, you may not be as polished or concise as in the past. Don’t be afraid to practice in front of the mirror while timing yourself or have a friend listen in.

Be a good listener

Keeping your pitch short and sweet is important because you don’t want to dominate the conversation by only talking about yourself. If you do too much of the talking, you’ll come across as boring or self-involved. Being a good listener is a key component of good networking.

Resume Help says to remember that while networking is about exchanges, it’s not a “what can you do for me” type scenario. If you want to provide value to the other person, carefully listen to their needs and concerns. You may be able to provide helpful insight or use your experiences to assist. The key to finding common ground starts with listening, and you never want to make the exchange all about you.

Remember quality over quantity

It can be tempting to take a “spray-and-pray” approach to networking. You want to make valuable connections, and you may think that talking to everyone is the best way to find them. But it’s better to take a targeted approach.

“Focus on meaningful conversations and connections that can truly help you move forward to the next step.” –Byron Slosar, CEO of HelloHive

Popl’s Gerald Lombardo suggests defining your goal for the event before you arrive. Whether it’s casting a wide net to learn what’s out there, meeting people in a specific company, getting face time with a specific attendee, or meeting other entrepreneurs, having a clear focus will guide you toward specific connections. With a clear goal in mind, you’ll take a more measured approach, leading to more success.

Keep an open mind

Finally, while it’s good to create a clear plan and stick to it, the nature of in-person events means you may come across something you weren’t expecting. Keep an open mind during your conversations, and don’t be afraid to seize the day.

“Don’t shut down just because it’s not exactly what you were looking for. Be open to all opportunities and follow your gut.” –Gerald Lombardo

Maybe an unexpected opportunity arises, or you feel a connection with an industry or role you hadn’t previously considered. Maybe an unknown company or investment really calls to you. Human nature means we find meaning in aspects we aren’t always prepared for. Keep an open mind during your efforts, and don’t be afraid to adapt.

Wrap up

Many of these same rules apply to virtual events as well, but being in an in-person environment may be intimidating after time away. Thankfully, if you take time to do your homework and remember the core principles of successful networking, you’ll get back on the horse in no time!

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