Collectively we attend or orchestrate more than 150 business networking events each year. When we are part of the audience, that’s a lot of crackers, cucumbers, cheese, wine and name badge spotting. It takes its toll, and I’m not always available to stay for a full two to four hour production. During heavy event seasons I’ve also had to cover two or more events in one evening – sometimes work or life commitments dictate how quickly I need to leave. Whatever the reason I’ve learned a few things about maximizing my time at an event without staying for the duration.

  • Arrive early. When possible I might be the first person there. This allows me time to talk with organizers, association principles, etc. These are all good connections to have and explore. They can key me in on expected attendees, future activities and opportunities.
  • Read the names on the badges at the registration table. I like knowing whom I might meet – prospects, clients, competitors, referral resources, etc.
  • Once people start flowing in I stay near the entrance to the main networking area. People are more easily engaged in a conversation earlier than later. Plus, I will have a better chance of meeting everyone I want to meet. I am also seen by a maximum of attendees – being seen is almost as important as being known.
  • If I visit the bar or food tables, I’ll invite someone to join me. From the front door almost everyone is headed to one of those two places as their first stop after registration.
  • I often offer to bring drinks to a gaggle of people. They will definitely include me in their conversation when I return and people feel good about people that pamper them.
  • After about 30 minutes, when the crowd has really grown and a good buzz is happening I walk from the entrance to the furthest point away from the door in the networking space. Along the way I greet people I know but haven’t spoken with yet, I wave and nod at people I’ve already talked to, and smile at as many people as look me in the eye.
  • Once at the back of the room I survey the room for a cluster of VIPs hoping I know someone in the gaggle. If so, that’s where I’m headed. If not, I look for a fellow service provider to discuss who is attending. What we can do together is make mutual introductions and share information/insight about people in the room.
  • When the event is 45 minutes old I have pretty much “worked” the room and can start toward the exit much like I entered; nodding, shaking hands, and smiling.

What I have accomplished is immense! I was seen by many, I appeared to be known by many, I made important connections (and set up opportunities for private meetings), and been a contributor to the “buzz” of an event.
For the record let me say that I think it is bad form to leave an event early. For all of the effort that individuals put into an event it is the decent thing to stay to the end. I hope for the same from attendees at events that I orchestrate. But at every event it is not possible for me as it is not possible for everyone that shows up. So if you find that your time is limited these were just a few ideas for making the journey productive.