How to Get the Most Out of Networking Events

Three marketers share steps to find the right events, make connections, and leave inspired.

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If you're like most professional marketers, your business grows through meeting new people. Whether you encounter potential clients in a grocery line, a subway station, or an industry event, you never know who might be your next lead.

Of course, you want to seek out those opportunities rather than leave them all to serendipity. Here's how a few experts make the most of networking events.

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1. Seek out upcoming events

There's a lot of noise out there about where to be and when. Rather than suffer from FOMO about events as they happen, use your day-to-day network to discover the right events ahead of time.

Santiago Melluso of Farm.Co in Spain recommends using apps to stay in the loop. "Slack groups provide a direct way to stay in tune with events recommended by our partners," he says. "For local events we have Google Alerts and a couple dozen blogs on Feedly."

Emily Ryan of Westfield Creative, which is based in the United States, also taps into her network to stay informed. She keeps an eye on Facebook groups filled with fellow marketers and watches what entrepreneurs are talking about on Instagram. "I also love to ask other business owners and mentors of mine what they attend each year, and we try to find out what our 'ideal clients' might attend," she says.

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2. Define your criteria, then narrow your list

Once you've identified upcoming events of interest, it's a good idea to prioritize which ones you'd like to attend.

Emily recommends that you start by defining your own criteria for a worthwhile opportunity. She says, "The main questions I ask are: Will this event ultimately increase our bottom line? Will this event teach me something new and important? Will this event inspire me or motivate me in a big way?"

For Glenn Edley of Spike in New Zealand, networking events are about pushing his professional abilities and interests to the next level. "They have to interest me, be somewhat out of my comfort zone, and look like I will learn valuable lessons from the speakers," he says.

Santiago focuses on size and theme as he evaluates where to be. "We feel better in smaller groups. Niche-based events are much better because they tend to prioritize community over business," he says. "We choose to attend those events that feel closer to our company culture."

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3. Get ready for a good time

Both Santiago and Glenn make sure to arrive at networking events fully prepared with a game plan. That way, they make the most of their time in attendance.

"Our goal is always to know as much as possible about the organizers, the speakers, the sponsors, and the topics that will be discussed," says Santiago.

In addition to studying the itinerary for an event, Emily publicizes her own plans and seeks out opportunities to spend quality time with people there.

Her recommendations: "Create some posts letting people know you'll be there, ask who's coming and if they want to meet up. I've even seen people create a landing page for people to request a meeting when they go to the event. I also like to send a quick email campaign to my list letting them know I'll be there."

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4. Avoid awkwardness with the right attitude

The social element of networking events can be enough to keep some people away altogether. But these marketing pros have developed tactics to keep feelings of shyness at bay.

"The thing I try to tell myself at any event is that everyone there is in the same boat. We're all here for the same reason—to grow our business or our skills in some way. That's it. So just dive in and try to make your time worthwhile," says Emily.

Santiago recommends finding a buddy to attend the event with you, especially one who is a little more outgoing if you feel intimidated.

Glenn makes an effort to engage people in genuine discussions without a business end in mind. "I like to have good conversations, not just light ones where the goal is to hand out as many cards as possible," he says. "People remember you better if you took the time to really engage and ask about the thing they like most to talk about—themselves."

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5. Follow up to build lasting relationships

All 3 marketers make a habit of following up with people they've met at an event, but giving people context in your follow-up is key.

"I will connect with them on LinkedIn by sending them a message that reminds them of where we met," says Glenn. "I make sure I've made enough notes about the people I've met during and after the event so that I've retained their information and can relate it back to myself and them."

Emily is a fan of connecting on multiple channels. She finds that Facebook and Instagram are great platforms to grow connections casually.

Santiago has started a practice of connecting people he's connected with. "We're investing a lot of time in creating multidisciplinary work groups or Zoom calls where we can catch up and cross-connect the people we know from different sources," he says. "It's always fun, and it creates unexpected synergies."

But there's more to gain from networking events than a Rolodex full of new clients.

"I always hope to leave an event with these 3 things: to feel inspired to create better work, with new business connections, and having learned at least 1 new thing," says Emily. "Even if you don't feel like networking is important in this stage of your business, you can certainly leave most of these events inspired in some way—and that's totally worth something."