“Be Prepared!”

That’s the Boy Scout motto. How many similar sentiments echo through our stories and sayings? “Look before you leap”, “A stitch in time saves nine”, “Forwarned is for-armed”. Obviously, the concept of preparation is one that our teachers throughout time have tried to nail home.

Networking is no exception to this rule of life. Proper preparation can make the difference between us scrambling around, off-balance and uncomfortable, and feeling at ease and ready to focus on the needs of those around us. Most people understand this idea with their physical networking toolkit — schedule, business cards, etc. The challenge they run into is in preparing the non-material things.

Here is a list of the nine most important pieces of information you should gather to prepare for networking success at the event. Some are easy and obvious. You can check the website to find out the when and where. Some of the others might require actually talking to someone — the person who invited you or the event organizer. Hey, it’s another opportunity to network. Why not?

  1. Date and Time. Let’s start with the basics. Obviously, you need to know when to be there. Your aim should be to arrive at least ten minutes before the start time.
  2. Location. The next easy, obvious one. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s kind of hard to make sure you get there on time.
  3. Directions. Verify that you know how to get to where you are going. Be sure to take into account that you might not be leaving from your office or home. In this case you need to know both the start and end points.
  4. Travel Time. Closely related to the directions is the amount of time it will take to actually get there. Be careful with this one, though. You can’t just look up the time in directions from Google Maps (or a similar site). You should take into account other factors, too. Will you be driving during rush hour? Could the weather delay you? What about construction? I was once 30 minutes late for an event because Google Maps told me 42 minutes drive time, but the one inch of snow that fell during morning rush hour turned the highway into a parking lot.
  5. Agenda. This can actually feed into some of your other preparations, but you need to at least verify that there will be sufficient justification for trading your time and money to attend this particular event. Will there be enough networking time? Is there a speaker who will provide information that you need in order to succeed in your life? Are there any special activities you should be aware of? Don’t assume that just because you’ve attended this particular event before that you know what to expect. Every once in a while planning committees like to “change things up”.
  6. Special Preparations. Now we’re getting into some of the information that will keep you focused on your networking instead of fretting. Different events may have activities beyond the normal open networking. Will you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to the group? What constraints do you have? Is there a “trade business cards” activity? Even if it’s not productive (in my view), you still want to be able to participate. Should you come prepared with a problem that the group will help you with? That peer counseling can be an invaluable opportunity. Be ready for it. This is where knowing the agenda comes in handy.
  7. Dress Code. You want to stand out within the boundaries of the event’s culture. If the attendees are all wearing suits and you show up in jeans and flip-flops, you probably won’t be respected as a professional. On the other hand, showing up in formal attire to a beach barbeque will show that you are an outsider. Remember: First impressions count and your appearance will be the first thing they see before you even open your mouth to say “hello”.
  8. Speaker Background. While not strictly necessary, if there is a speaker it’s not a bad idea to know who they are, what they talk about, and what they look like. Having a few good questions to ask them can go a long way toward making a strong first impression with someone who is undoubtedly fairly well connected.
  9. Your Goals. Beyond just getting yourself there on time, this one piece of information will determine whether the event is a success for you or not. This is mainly because by setting a goal, you are deciding what success is. Without a goal, you have no finish line to run toward. You can only network aimlessly and hope — which really isn’t much of a plan, is it?

It may seem like a lot of trouble to gather all this information. In reality, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes. Isn’t it worth spending those few minutes to make sure you have all the tools you need to make your networking efforts a success? After all, you are trading your money and (more importantly) your time for this opportunity.

Make it count.

Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He has worked with businesses and associations, entrepreneurs and job-seekers to create a world of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or gpeters@thereluctantnetworker.com.

© Copyright 2012, The Reluctant Networker, LLC

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