Ten Ways to Increase Your ROI at Networking Events

All opportunities come from peo­ple, and networking is one of the best ways business owners can discover new contacts, increase their knowledge and find new opportuni­ties. While everyone seems to under­stand the power of relationships both in business and their personal lives, the topic of networking continues to be confusing and complicated.

Although networking opportu­nities are one of the most common reasons that business professionals attend a conference, seminar or con­vention, few people take advantage of making the connections that they claim to be seeking.

Thom Singer, author of the ABC’s of Networking and an upcoming speaker at The NATSO Show 2015, said that there are several ways those who attend meetings can strengthen their efforts to build meaningful relationships.

1. Understand What Networking Is
Singer said many people have pre­conceived notions of what network­ing is and view it simply as schmooz­ing. “Really it is the creation of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships where everybody in­volved succeeds more because of the relationship. It is about saying I want to be a resource for them and they can be a resource for me,” he said. “It is important to go in with the right definition.”

2. Be Present
Attending an event is only part of the process. More important­ly, attendees need to be open and ac­cessible to those around them. “It is the power of hello,” Singer said. “If you’re standing in line and you don’t say anything to the people around you, nothing can happen.”

One of the biggest mistakes peo­ple make during a conference is sticking with their co-workers or other long-time friends and clos­ing off their conversations. When five people from the same compa­ny sit together at a table, they rob themselves of the opportunity to connect with others, he explained. Combined they can meet five other people at a table of ten, but if they split up, they could meet 45 people. Breaking up will result in a much greater ROI.

Similarly, all too often during a con­ference attendees head back to their rooms during breaks or spend time on their smart phone. “Social media is a useful tool, but it isn’t a replacement for a real-life connection,” Singer said.

By viewing break times, lunch ses­sions and even down time in the evenings as potential networking op­portunities, attendees at an event can maximize all of the time that is avail­able to them. It is also important for attendees to make it easy for others to approach them, which is something that nametags can help with. Singer encourages attendees to always wear them. Not only will they make it easier for someone to say hello, nametags will usually have a company name and hometown displayed prominently, which is a good conversation starter.

3. Identify Your Goals
In order to network produc­tively, you have to have an understand­ing of what you want to accomplish and create a plan that sets you up to both give and receive opportunities. For example, if you know in advance who you would like to meet or who you assume will be in attendance, you can look for them at the conference, Singer said. Even better, you could reach out to them by email ahead of the event and tell them you’d like to meet up for coffee or plan to connect over lunch.

4. Embrace Your Style
Some people are just more naturally outgoing than others, which often leads people to think that networking is easier for them. That isn’t necessarily the case, Singer said. “Shamefully our society cham­pions the extroverts, but as a person­ality, neither is better or worse. They are just different,” he explained.

To do networking right, introverts and extroverts should learn something from each other. Extroverts may find it easier to break into a conversation or enter a room where they don’t know anyone, but introverts can actually be better networkers. “If you really talk to the introverts, they will tell you that when they’re involved in a conversa­tion, they are really engaged. They ask questions, they listen and then they follow up on what they heard. If the extrovert is talking and not listening, they miss out on learning how they could really help the person.”

Both introverts and extroverts like­ly have something about networking that they find difficult. “Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it or that it is bad,” Singer said, adding that people can seek out opportunities where they can network. “If you like the one-on-one conversation, become the master of the hallway conversation. Those spontaneous hallway conversations can be amongst the best.”

5. Connect With Other Generations
"People are more alike than they are different and we can all learn from each other,” Singer said. He recom­mends that if you’re in your 50s to 60s, you go out of your way every year to make a friend in their 20s to 30s. “Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they don’t bring interesting things to the table,” he said. “If you’re in your 20s to 30s, you should go out of your way to make connections with people in their 50s and 60s. Those who are in their 40s should make a friend older and younger than them every year. You’ll learn a lot.”

6. Commit To The Give And Take
If you enter into your network­ing activities only concerned with who can help you, you will never find the success you seek, Singer said. “Go into it realizing you want to make connec­tions with people that have the same long-term goals that you do and know that you want to be a resource for them and they can be a resource for you,” he explained, adding that networking has to be about give and take.

7. Reach Out
For someone to become a part of your network, you have to do more than exchange business cards, Singer said. After connecting with a group, people often walk away with a stack of business cards, but to form a relationship, you have to take action. It can be difficult to find the time to follow up with each person, but for­tunately Singer said it isn’t necessary. “Decide the three or four people you met at an event that had an impact on your time and find a way to fol­low up. Sometimes it is a handwrit­ten note or maybe it is something more immediate and you can call or send an email,” he said, adding that it is best to follow up within a week of meeting someone new.

When attending an out-of-town event, Singer suggests you bring blank note cards and draft handwrit­ten notes on the airplane. Or, create reminders on your calendar to follow up at a specific time. “Do not assume that the other person will follow up with you, take this action step as your responsibility and you will have more success at establishing a real connection,” Singer said.

8. Develop Follow-Through DNA
Singer said it is important for people to follow through if they’ve committed to something. “People often say, ‘I can to­tally help you with that.’ Then they get back to the office and forget. If you say you’re going to do it, you have to do it,” he said. “You have to lead by exam­ple when it comes to relationships. If you want people to make you a prior­ity, you have to make them a priority.”

9. Commit To Helping Others Find Success
“If your purpose to network is only one sided, you will never find all the opportunities that are available,” Singer said, adding that while it is easy to get lost in your own goals and never do anything for others, you should schedule time each week to make sure that you are regularly mak­ing key introductions, referring others and promoting others in social media. “If you find ways to help others get closer to their dreams, the line will be long of those who will do the same for you. Zig Ziglar had a saying that you can have anything you want in life if you help other people get what they want in life.”

10. Ask Questions
Part of networking is being genuinely interested in others, so ask them about their company, career path, family, hobbies or any other topic that will get them talking. Once you’re involved in a conversa­tion, you’ll find key connections that will lead to a long-term relationship.

Operators who will be attending The NATSO Show 2015 can start thinking now about how to make networking a priority and discover the power in the relationships that can come from being at the conference. They can at­tend Singer’s session in which he will share his insights into how truckstop and travel plaza owners and operators could foster connections not only with fellow industry members, but also with clients, prospects and other people in their business community.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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