Networking In Atlanta: Before the Event

So now you have (1) an overall networking goal, (2) a long, curated list of local networking events in Atlanta, and (3) perhaps an event of your own in the making.  

Now, we’re going to get a quick plan of attack together in order to prepare for networking events that you choose attend.

In this section, we’ll cover:

Let’s get started…

Why Prepare for Networking Events?

Networking can get very complicated very quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing.  When you show up and face the crowd, you don’t want to be overwhelmed, you want to have an actionable strategy from the get go.

A picture of a single person who looks unhappy contrasted with a picture of another person that looks very happy when surrounded by others.

Humans are social creatures (as much as we’d like to think that we’re not). It’s very easy to believe that “you’ll just handle it at the time”, however the reality is a tad more complicated.  

When I first started networking, I was very intimidated by the large crowds, the pressure to form a meaningful connection, and some pre-existing social anxiety.  After I had a plan in place, the context of each event switched dramatically.

For the record, nowadays when I attend events, my goal is: “find people who have problems I can solve”.

Having a strategy gives you permission to ignore the stresses of networking and focus instead on something very simple and attainable.

Let’s build one now so you can see how it’s done…

Defining a Networking Strategy

|  What is a networking strategy?  

Essentially, it’s what you actually plan to do at a particular event.

As usual (starting to see a trend here?), we’re going to tie this directly back to our networking goal:

A notebook with the text: “In the next month, I’m going to attend at least 20 networking events, build relationships and my email list with the aim of earning 5 qualified phone calls a month for my web design service that will increase the revenue generated by my company and lead to more organic referrals.”

When we’re defining a strategy, it’s important to ask the question: what do I have to do to make genuine progress towards my goal at each event?

Breaking down the goal, there are a few points I’d like to highlight:

  • Sub-Goal #1: The phone calls must be qualified.
    • This means they must be both interested and in a position to buy from me either today or sometime in the future.
  • Sub-Goal #2: I’m looking to build relationships.
  • Sub-Goal #3: I’m looking to build my email list.

Here’s these goals mapped to specific and actionable tactics that will evolve into my networking strategy:This is a diagram that maps our networking goals to specific strategies and tactics that we'll use at the events themselves. Here, II learn that in order to obtain qualified phone calls, build relationships with clients, and build my email list, I need to build rapport and trust with emphatic listening, find a problem that I can solve, minimize chit-chat with "non-buyers", ask permission to add them to my list, and follow-up on a specific timeline.

We can tackle sub-goals 2 and 3 at the same time simply by interacting with people: we’ll build trust naturally through the email list anyway.  Therefore, it would make sense to build an initial connection, then sometime after the business card exchange ask if they’d be interested in joining the mailing list.

For sub-goal 1, we need to make sure that we’re spending our time talking to the most qualified prospects.  We’ll do this by researching the attendees beforehand if we can, and broadcasting our intent early and often throughout the event.

Here’s a quick snapshot of our current strategy based on the goals we have:

A picture depicting a simple networking strategy. We first, say hello to all the staff members, then approach the first person you see, talk to the "outliers", talk to some pair groups, then start breaking into the larger groups.It’s worth mentioning that most strategies will be the same regardless of your larger goal.  Almost every networking goal will involve meeting the right people, and building relationships with them, so feel free to use this particular strategy as a model for your own.

Here’s the general workflow if you’d like to define a networking strategy of your own:

A flowchart describing how you can come up with a networking strategy of your own.

Now, let’s determine what we’ll actually do to prepare for the event.

What to do to Prepare for Networking Events

This section will cover exactly what you need to do to prepare for networking events.  We’ll first cover the things you should do regardless of your strategy, then I’ll use my example to extract some key insights particular to my strategy.

 

|  General Preparation Process

If you’re looking to maximize the effectiveness of your networking events, you’re going to want to do exactly this:

Know Your Host

Yea, I know this seems a bit creepy, but surprisingly in the business world this comes across as being uncharacteristically proactive.  Find them on LinkedIn, and get the following high-level information about them:

  • Profession
  • Interests
  • Relation to event
  • One interesting fact.

You’ll use this information later when you meet them at the event when we’re interacting with them: simply drop little hints here and there showcasing that you did your research.

 

A picture of my "Atlanta Freelancers" meetup. Here, we simply click on the "Organizer" to see more details about them.1. First, click on the event organizer image to learn more about them.

A picture of my "Atlanta Freelancers" meetup. Here, we inspect various details about the host, including their picture, and any other meetups their in.

2. Then, simply inspect various details about the host, including their picture, and any other meetups their in.  Looks like I enjoy Android application development (probably specifically game development), and my picture implies that I really love dogs.

Look at the list of attendees: establish a list of the most potent relationships.

Find Your “Top 5” Attendees

If the list of attendees is publicly-available, do a bit of background research on each of them (usually aggregators like Meetup will require that attendees fill out certain metadata on their profile).

Find your top 5 attendees, and reach out to them individually if you can, and schedule a quick get-together.

A screenshot of the Atlanta Startup Village event, prompting you to first click on the event title to see more details.1. First, click on the event title to see more details.

A screenshot of the Atlanta Startup Village event, prompting you to scroll down the page until you find someone that may be of interest to you.

2a. Next, scroll down the page until you find someone that may be of interest to you.

A screenshot of the Atlanta Startup Village event, prompting you to click the "Read More" link that appears after hovering over someone that looks like they'd be a good match for you.

2b. Click the “Read More” link that appears after hovering over someone that looks like they’d be a good match for you.

A screenshot of the Atlanta Startup Village event, prompting you to learn anything else you can about them, and then click "Message" to connect with them before the event.

3. Finally, learn anything else you can about them, and then click “Message” to connect with them before the event.

Looks like this gentleman is looking to launch a website soon.  Perfect!

Post Your “Role & Goal” in a Group Forum

If there is the option to publish information to the group beforehand (like there is in meetup), briefly introduce yourself, and let people know:

  • Who you are.
  • What your role is.
  • What your goal for the event is.

The main theme here is simply this: be proactive.  Hardly anyone will do this amount of preparation, so doing it will make you stand out from the crowd and give you an edge.

 

|  Strategy-Specific Preparation

For my specific strategy, there’s really not much to add.  I’m already going to be searching out the most warm prospects beforehand. The only thing I would add here would be that if I ever get a chance to volunteer to talk about my business and what I do, I will always raise my hand.

This gives me an (albeit brief) platform to introduce my value proposition to the group and sets me up for making targeted connections later.

 

|  Other Tips

In addition to the above, make sure you follow these often-overlooked but crucial tips:

  • Get enough sleep the night before.
  • If you can meet with another attendee before the event, this will greatly help you start mingling as soon as you enter the door.
  • Eat just before the event (ideally with other attendees) so you’re not worrying about how hungry you are while dealing with small talk.
  • Warm up by talking to concierge and other staff members on your way to the event.

Now that you have prepared for your networking events, we’re going to put it to action during the actual event!


In the next section, we’ll cover some best practices for overcoming the social hurdles of the events themselves, then dive into detail on how to apply our new plan to each event!

Take Me to Chapter 5: During the Event →