To build a successful career, you need to master key skills, work hard, think creatively and make long-term plans…but you also need to make sure other people know about your skills, hard work, creativity and plans.
Networking events, i.e. activities where professionals in the same industry rub shoulders with each other, are how many modern entrepreneurs build relationships and unlock new business opportunities.
In this article, you’ll learn about several types of business networking events and how to make the most out of attending them. Specifically we’ll cover:
The benefits of business networking events
Seven worthwhile networking events
Industry-specific speaking engagements
Professional conferences or work summits
Online webinars or workshops
Happy Hour networking meetups
How to maximize your networking at these events
How to maintain the connections you make
The benefits of attending business networking events
By understanding how networking events are set up and how business professionals engage with them, you can also enrich your career with new connections, employers, and investors.
Attending business to Business (B2B) networking events can benefit you in the following ways:
Expanding your network of professional contacts
Growing your social media presence
Giving you the chance to meet new employers
Giving you the chance to meet new clients
Giving you the chance to meet new investors
Giving you the chance to meet new mentors
Seven worthwhile networking events
Industry-specific speaking engagements let executives promote their brands
Speaking engagements are events where accomplished individuals share their thoughts with an audience. Industry-specific speaking engagements, however, are niche events where business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs present their ideas to colleagues in their field of work.
Many industry-specific speaking engagements have a panel of speakers who take turns talking on a stage. Sometimes they’ll lecture audience members about important leadership skills or how to successfully run a business in their industry. In other instances, these speakers will share motivational principles that helped them succeed or explain what makes their businesses special.
To find these industry-specific speaking events in advance, subscribe to industry news outlets or subscribe to social media promoters who share these events on their profiles. Attending these engagements is a great way to learn about new business strategies and opportunities. Additional benefits to your networking efforts and career include being able to meet people who work in the same business as you, swapping contact information, and expressing your interest in future collaborations.
Roundtable discussions have debates, moderators, and back-and-forth questions
Like speaking engagements, roundtable discussions are events where professionals talk about their ideas and principles to an audience. Unlike speaking engagements, the guest speakers actively engage with each other while a moderator makes sure everyone has time to talk, listen, and ask questions.
Many roundtable discussions have a relatively small panel of speakers and a limited pool of audience members. This gives every speaker and every audience member the time and space to chime in with questions, while also making it easy for moderators to encourage discussion and shift said discussion to the next points on the agenda. Most business-focused roundtable discussions have debates about business topics, such as management or innovation, held between speakers chosen to have a wide range of opinions.
Out of all the different business networking events you might attend, roundtable discussions are ideal if you want to be a participant who asks questions and not just a spectator. If you are planning to attend a roundtable discussion, it’s a good idea to create a small list of questions to ask the speakers in advance. These questions should be clear, direct, and to the point so panel speakers don’t have to waste time puzzling them out.
Professional conferences and work summits are grueling but full of networking opportunities
Most networking events (essential for progress in myriad careers) last from a few hours to a full day. Professional conferences and work summits, on the other hand, are sprawling affairs with thousands of guests and multiple events running at the same time.
Generally, professional conferences and work summits are sponsored by companies from a single industry. Their dawn to dusk schedules, often spanning multiple days, are filled with workshops, seminars, roundtable discussions, keynote speaker talks, and vendor booths where products and services are put on full display.
Nearly all of these events cater to professionals in the industry who might be searching for new clients, searching new labor-saving technologies, or seeking advice on how to get their own projects off the ground.
Tickets for professional conferences and work summits can be very expensive. Attending these events themselves can be a huge time sink (especially if you need to travel or spend nights in a hotel). All the same, conferences and summits are one of the best places to expand your business network and share your contact information with dozens of like-minded individuals.
Online webinars and workshops are network-friendly and educational
Online webinars and in-person workshops can be stand-alone events or part of a larger conference. They might be invite-only meetings for professionals in the same company or more open events that bring together people from different businesses.
The common thread uniting every business webinar and workshop is their focus on education, on teaching attendees the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in their industries of choice.
Most webinars and workshops are built around an agenda–a specific schedule outlining what topics will be discussed and what activities attendees will participate in. Often, a webinar or workshop will start with a lecture or presentation with powerpoint slides or demonstrations. After this keynote activity, the leaders of the webinar/workshop might follow up with Q&A time, brainstorming sessions, or other learning activities.
If you’re attending a webinar or workshop, you’ll likely get a chance to build your business network during the post-lecture parts of the meeting either by introducing yourself while asking questions or chatting with others during group activities. Webinars or workshops that happen on a weekly or monthly basis are particularly great ways to form lasting connections with professionals outside your company.
Happy hour networking meetups are informal and fun opportunities for connection
Happy hour meetups and business mixers are casual and relaxing as far as networking events go. There’s no agenda, no guest lecturers, no lessons, or vendor booths; just employees and entrepreneurs from all walks of life, enjoying good food, good drink, and pleasant conversation. Depending on the venue, these meetups and mixers might even have playful activities such as karaoke, quizzes, board games, or bar crawls.
If you’re an extrovert, mixers and meetups are types of networking events you don’t want to miss. At these occasions, you can freely draw on your social graces to share stories, ask flattering questions, swap contact information, and possibly even pitch investment ideas.
Introverts may have a tougher time building connections at mixers or meetups, since they can lack the ability to make themselves heard.
To find an upcoming happy hour networking meetup in your neighborhood, check scheduling websites such as Meetup, social media profiles on Facebook or Twitter, or even the web pages for local chambers of commerce.
Often, these events are exclusive to professionals who buy tickets or reserve a finite number of seats; the sooner you learn of these networking get-togethers, the more likely you can snag an invitation.
According to a recent post on Finances Online, 73% of surveyed employees reported that they got new jobs thanks to introductions or referrals made by one of their contacts. At the same time, only 25% of professionals in the modern economy engage in active networking.
Another relevant statistic from the Finances Online post: 70% of all jobs in the modern economy are not advertised on job websites, making traditional face-to-face networking still one of the most effective ways to unlock new career opportunities.
Business networking events: college and university lectures often have open attendance
Business lectures in a college or university tend to cover the same topics as speaking engagements and roundtable discussions. Sometimes they even have a similar format of guest speakers talking and then fielding questions from the audience. The biggest draw of college/university lectures is that they’re mostly free to attend and are often streamed online.
If you’re interested in networking at lectures like these, check the event calendar of local colleges and universities in your area to see who will be invited to speak. Professionals mingling at these events will be able to forge connections with faculty staff and respected academic experts. Graduates, in turn, can talk with established professionals and start building their business network right out of the gate.
Career fairs provide networking opportunities for graduates and professionals between jobs
Career fairs, as the name itself implies, are events where businesses try to recruit new employees. Often, these fairs take the form of pamphlet-filled booths and tables staffed with promoters who share information about new career opportunities with job seekers.
The stereotypical career fair is hosted at a college/university campus ground, catering to graduates and students seeking summer employment. That said, career fairs can also be hosted at professional conferences or virtual spaces online.
If you’re attending an in-person career fair, you’ll likely be networking and building connections with the many employers on site. Print out multiple copies of your resume or curriculum vitae to hand out if a job opening or company catches your eye.
Alternately or additionally, you can commission a set of business cards to promote your own company or freelance services.
How to maximize your networking at business events
There’s all sorts of guides, manuals, and articles about mastering the art of professional networking, full to the brim with advice on how to charm, engage, entice, and create new opportunities for yourself and others. A lot of this advice (though not all) can be boiled down into this simple principle: “If you want people to care about you, care about them.” The guideline above is especially relevant when you’re trying to expand your network at any of the events listed above.
Do share these at business events
Don't share these at business events
The name of colleagues you respect
Boilerplate cover letters
The phone numbers of others
The emails of others
Pestering requests for a job offer
Unsolicited sales pitches
Whether at workshops, mixers, conferences, or lectures, you build connections with other people by talking to them. The goal of these conversations is always to earn their respect and interest, leaving a strong enough impression for them to want to contact you again after the business event is over.
Conversation–and the interest you hope to gain from it–is a two-way street. If you talk only about yourself, very few professionals or entrepreneurs will want to keep in touch with you. Ask insightful questions about who they are and what they do, however, and the people you meet will consistently return the interest you show. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie’s famous quote from his book How To Win Friends And Influence People, “a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
If you’re trying to build rapport with a person by asking about their work and life, it’s important your questions come from a place of genuine interest. When you pander to a conversation partner or lie about your curiosity, odds are good they’ll notice, even if only on a subconscious level, and refuse to engage with you.
Maintaining your new network of contacts after attending business networking events
Imagine that you just attended a business networking event and got along with the people there. Fascinating conversations were had, business cards and contact info was exchanged, and intriguing proposals were made. Balls are rolling and irons are in the fire…but how are you supposed to keep these new network connections in place after leaving the business event behind? First, record all the names and contact information you received in a place you can access anywhere such as your phone’s contact profile list, a document on your computer, etc. If your new business contacts have social media accounts or networking profiles on LinkedIn, follow those accounts or send friend requests.
A few days after the business event you attended together, send your new contacts follow-up messages via email and text, thanking them for the time they spent with you.
A sample follow-up message for new business contacts
Hello [Contact Name Here],
This is [Name Here], a [Profession Title Here] from [Location Name Here]. I really enjoyed our talk about [Topic Here] at the [Event Name Here] and thought I’d check in to see how you’re doing.
I was also curious about [Business Name Here]; are they still planning to [Action Here]?
In the near future, would you be interested in meeting up online or in-person? I should be available at [Time Frame Here] and can always be reached at [Contact Info Here].
Thanks for your time.
– [Name Here]
After your initial follow-up messages, don’t try to inundate your new network of business contacts with pestering messages or social media posts published on a mechanistic schedule. Instead, try to be genuine with your messages and reach out to them for the following reasons:
You heard about one of their accomplishments and want to congratulate them.
You heard about a change in their company and want to ask about it.
You need help or advice and want to get their input.
There’s a skill you need to master and you want to see if they can be or recommend a mentor.
You’re in-between jobs and want to see if you can help them out with anything.
You haven’t talked in a while and want to catch up.
As with many other forms of communication, reciprocity is key. If you want your new contacts to respond to your messages, reply to their own messages without fail. By the same token, the people in your business network will be more likely to share your social media posts and news releases if you do the same for them.
Industry-specific speaking engagements and roundtable discussions are centered around guest speakers and formal Q&A segments.
Professional conferences and work summits cost time and money to attend but are full of potential networking opportunities.
Online webinars and workshops have an educational focus but can bring together industry colleagues on a regular basis.
Business meet-ups and mixers are fun and full of networking opportunities but may be harder for introverts to navigate.
College/university lectures have the advantage of being free to attend.
Career fairs are great networking venues for graduates and job-seekers.
To make connections with people at business networking events, be an active listener whose questions show genuine interest in others.
To maintain your network of contacts after a business event, send them periodic follow-up messages to check in, congratulate them for success, or ask if they need help.