By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes
When I lived in Washington, D.C. and worked in counterterrorism, I attended more than a few networking events.
On one occasion, I ended up talking with a cab driver for a good portion of the night, and some of the women that came to the event with me said I was wasting my time talking to him. It wasn’t until the end of the event that I realized he was the Clinton’s cab driver.
The lesson I learned? You never know who you’re talking to, and sometimes our assumptions are wrong. Now, as a career and business coach, it’s something I remind every client.
If you’re an entrepreneur, networking is critical. In fact, one study states that networking is vital to the success of 78% of startups. Here are a few benefits from networking events, and why they can seriously catapult your business.
- It gives you a chance to refine your message. Networking events are a great place to meet a lot of like-minded people at one time, so take advantage of that. If you’re new to the networking game, these events are a great place to hone in on your company’s mission statement and really help you definitively determine what you stand for.On average, you have about 30 seconds to convey who you are, what you do, and what sets you apart. Start with one person at a time, and by the end of the event, you’ll find your message polished and ready for any listening ear.
- The connections you make. Even if you don’t get a call or email right away, the amount of first-hand connections you make at networking events is incredibly valuable. You should have a stack of business cards by the end of each event. When you reach out to each new contact, they’ll be able to put your face to your name, and you’re much more likely to get a response.In fact, 85% of professionals say they develop a more meaning relationship after meeting someone in-person. Remember to act quickly, and send an email or LinkedIn request within the first 24-48 hours while your interaction is fresh in someone’s mind. Brownie points if you think to ask someone interesting to coffee—this deepens the connection, and your network.
- It forces you to get out there. We tend to be our own worst critics, and in business, that means being your own worst enemy. If you need to build your confidence and shut out the negative voices doubting your new business, a networking event is the perfect place to start. You’ll see tons of new faces, hear a plethora of business ideas, and come away with at least a handful of new contacts, connections, and support. Conquer your fears and put yourself in the driver’s seat! Practice your elevator pitch, which I write about often, and give yourself permission to give the event your full effort and presence.