As networkers we attend a lot of events. After all it’s where we meet new people and briefly touch base with existing connections. Folks who are new to the process, though, are often baffled by the whole thing – what to do and when to do it. If you know someone like that, pass along this helpful timeline. It will give them a first shot at preparing to succeed.

For the purposes of this post, let’s assume that we’re attending a standard networking lunch. Most of these preparations will apply to any general networking.

Days before. Pre-register if possible. If you are going to invite a guest, confirm your plans. If you are new to the event, you may want to contact the organizers to find out what to expect. You may also want to do some quick research into the speaker and possibly other attendees who might be showing up.

The night before. Figure out what you are going to wear. I know it may sound silly, but not having my clothes figured out ahead of time has occasionally cut into my networking time. Instead of hopping in the car, I’m running around the house looking for a clean dress shirt and matching tie.

Before you get in the car. Gather your networking toolkit. Make sure you have business cards in a card holder. Pack a few extras in your wallet or purse. Grab a pen and notepad (especially if there’s a speaker of some kind). Make sure you have access to your calendar whether paper or electronic. Remember it’s always easier to schedule a coffee while you are standing next to each other.

In the car. Of course, make sure you start this step early enough so that you will arrive at least ten minutes before the start of the event. While driving, quickly review your goals. Are you trying to meet two new people or re-connect with a specific person? Are you just there to hear the speaker? Or to decide if the event is one you want to attend on a regular basis? Whatever your goal, make sure you know what it is before you walk in the door.

Ten minutes before. Arrive. Remember, the best networkers arrive early. They are the ones you want to meet and develop relationships with. If you think about it, the average networking lunch has about thirty minutes of open networking before the formal part of the event begins. Showing up just ten minutes early gives you 33% more networking time than just arriving when the event starts.

From ten minutes to five minutes before. Scope out the facilities. Find the restrooms, coat room, buffet line, etc. Claim a seat. Either drop off your notebook or coat or take the napkin and run it through the top of the chair. Don’t lean the chair against the table. This will leave the legs sticking out in the walking path and be a hazard for your fellow attendees. Look for the speaker’s podium. Make sure your seat faces that direction. If you will also be “passing the mic” for introductions, be sure to sit toward the outside of the room. If you are in the middle, your back will always be to at least half of the room.

From five minutes before until the scheduled start time. Network. Chat with the folks coming in. Say hello to the event organizers. You can even offer to help. If you are a long-time attendee, you might even offer to take newcomers under you wing so that they have a more productive time.

OK, so that covers what to do up until the formal start of the event. At this point you should already own the room because you showed up early, and you should be feeling pretty confident, too, since you took the time to prepare and have all of your materials ready at hand. With the five to ten minutes of networking you’ve already accomplished, you may even be well on your way to achieving your goals. Congratulations!

Tomorrow we’ll cover dealing with the scheduled portion of the event.

Photo credit: chris gilbert