Excellent networking skills are vital in many professional capacities, but for event planners, they can make or break careers. Because there is so much creativity and diversity within the industry, you are responsible for building your own niche (or multiple niches over time). Even when you’re well established, event trends are constantly evolving. Your audience and email list continuously fluctuates as well; people change locations, and their needs and interests change. That’s why it’s important to continue networking throughout your career.
Many people treat networking like one big social affair, but in this case, that’s not the best strategy. While you are enjoying yourself is a big part of successful networking, you get better results if your efforts are focused and well-targeted toward your goals. So how can you improve and optimize your networking skills? We’ve got some unique ideas that will give your career the boost it needs at any given moment.
Setting Goals and Making Connections
It all starts with your goals. When you attend a networking event, set one or two realistic goals beforehand. This will help you make the best use of each opportunity. Some people go to networking events in search of sales leads, but there is no such thing as a goal that is too small. If you’re just beginning or trying to build a new niche, you can set simple (but just as important) goals. For example, you might plan to meet three new industry contacts. Or maybe you’d like to get a few business cards from potential suppliers. Networking is also a great way to learn about new relevant technologies, which event planners always need to do. Even just finding out more about your competition can be a worthy reason to attend a networking event.
If one of your goals is to talk with a specific person or business, make sure to come prepared. Research any specific potential contacts, sales leads, suppliers, partners, or sponsors. Knowing a bit about their background and expertise shows genuine interest and responsibility. It also saves time on lengthy introductions. This will sound silly and redundant, but don’t forget to make eye contact and smile; it helps you make genuine connections and shows interest and society. A lot of people fall into the trap of mentally rehearsing what they’re going to say before they say it. It can be challenging at first but try to take the pressure off and relax into your interactions. When you reduce your anxiety, you connect more with others, and conversations flow naturally. Considering the fact that the primary goal of networking is to build long-term, meaningful relationships, this is a very important part of it.
How can you take the pressure off? Well, one surefire way is to focus on expressing your interests. Generally, when people start talking about something they love, it puts them at ease. And when others can feel your passion, they’re naturally drawn to you.
Expanding Your Horizons
Now that we’ve talked about the how and why of perfecting your networking skills, let’s talk about the where. Although we discussed the importance of strategizing according to your goals, it’s also a good idea to keep an open mind. Don’t shy away from people who work in slightly different fields than your own. Have you ever met someone with whom you seemingly had nothing in common, but then got to know them and became good friends? Think of networking in a similar vein. If someone piques your interest at a networking event or social gathering, follow your instincts and explore the possibilities. The worst that can happen is that you don’t connect, after all...and you both walk away to pursue other avenues. But it’s entirely likely that this person might have information that you find valuable or connections that would be helpful to you. You never know who may be proficient in a new technology you need to learn or is experienced with a marketing strategy you need to learn.
Building Relationships Across Social Media Platforms
Now that we’ve discussed networking in person, let’s talk about social media. This may sound like a generalization, but it’s true: Every event planning business should be using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn- at the very least. If you’re stifling a yawn just reading this, stay with us. We recommend being present on all of these platforms not only to exponentially expand your reach by quantity, but to attract niche audiences. This is where quality becomes even more important than quantity. All of the major social media platforms are markedly different, and each has unique networking opportunities. When you utilize all of them to the best of your ability, you’re not only reaching more people, but niche audiences as well.
Take Instagram for example. It’s a highly visual platform in which people share a wide range of photography, products, and snapshots of their personal lives. While Twitter is mostly media and news focused, allowing users to follow as many celebrities as they want, Instagram is where more people make long-term, meaningful relationships. Influencers and everyday people make strong personal connections based on mutual life experiences. The “body positivity” movement is a prominent example of mass audiences authentically sharing difficult experiences and how they overcame them. Influencers who struggle with mental illness provide a safe, supportive space for others with mental illness to connect and share advice. In fact, many people form online connections that are almost like virtual support groups. Got a quirky interest? The odds are that you’ll find thousands to millions of others who share it on Instagram. We’re not exaggerating when we say there is space for just about any niche on Instagram. Its emphasis is on freedom of cathartic self-expression and building meaningful relationships.
We hardly need to remind you how valuable an instrument this platform can be in an experiential marketing culture. (We also probably needn’t mention that experiential marketing is currently the biggest trend in the event planning industry). Through Instagram, event planners can share testimonials, videography of past events, and behind the scenes look at upcoming events. But aside from its compatibility with the event planning business, Instagram is also an ideal place to promote products and services. If you can get an influencer with even a moderate following to mention or give testimony regarding your products or services, you’re expanding your reach by the thousands. With a little bit of luck and a lot of networking savviness, you might even reach millions!
As you probably know, LinkedIn is designed especially to facilitate professional development and networking. If you skip out on this one, you’re likely to miss a world of industry-related opportunities you might not find anywhere else. For event planners, all of the major platforms hold major potential- you just have to tap into it.
Storytelling as a Networking Skill
You’ll want to start slowly, of course. Cultivate a following by sharing who you are, what you do, and what your business stands for. Have you heard of storytelling as a networking skill? If not, it’s a fun and simple process. When telling your story to new people, you always want to be concise. Going off on too many tangents quickly diverts attention. What you do want to do is briefly tell people who you are, what you do, and what your values are. When you share your values, be sure to include a strongly relatable element. If you’re a “rags to riches” story, tell them about it. Everyone’s story is unique in some fundamental way. If you don’t feel like your story stands out or is personally relatable, start by sharing the inspiration behind your business. What inspired you to start it, and what do you hope to help people accomplish by using your services?
Once you’ve piqued their interest in your brand, you’ll want to tell them why your business is unique from others in the same industry. If experience has led you to believe that you fulfill a specific need better than many of your competitors, don’t hesitate to say so. (Avoid putting other companies down, though; that comes across as insincere and insecure. Although many people are tempted to embellish, there’s truly no need. Just sharing your story with genuine enthusiasm is enough to spark interest in many people. This way, you’re setting up realistic expectations for people who become involved with or patronize your business.
The suspense factor is key, but not to worry- it works better if you pursue it naturally. If your business is an established one, briefly describe how it has evolved over time. The bottom line is that stories are a more memorable way to connect with people, and connections water the growth of your business. And remember, storytelling is effective both on social media and in person. When you’re face to face, remember to take social cues from other people rather than just launching into your story as if reciting from a script. Be concise and show genuine interest in the other person or people with whom you are talking.
Meetups Forge Personal Connections in the Professional Capacity
Sound like an oxymoron? It’s not. At the risk of being totally redundant, we’ll insert one more reminder that experiential marketing makes the event world go around- and it’s constantly evolving through technology and diversity. Initiating and maintaining personal relationships with professional value has never been so crucial.
Here’s an idea that many event planners and small business owners pass over for various reasons. If you’ve got the means and the time, we suggest hosting a meetup with others who are connected to your industry. Or you can attend one. For most industries, there are many to choose from on the Meetup app.
We’re pleased to announce our upcoming social media app called Plans. Although Meetup is a great way to meet people and network, there aren’t any current platforms designed specifically to meet the needs of event planners. Plans is our solution to this problem. With our app, you’ll be able to create and attend events, interact with friends before events, and share live photography and videography from events. Unlike Meetup, which is diverse but somewhat disorganized, we suggest events based on the shared interests of you and your friends. Every day, events populate your newsfeed- and you’re spared the drudgery of filtering out the ones that aren’t aligned with your social and professional interests. Plans is a highly personalized tool for both event planners and people just looking to meet new people and enjoy new experiences.
Attending and Making the Most of Conferences
We won’t deny it- it can be intimidating to go to a conference or professional workshop on your own. (And if you want to pursue a variety of opportunities, the chances are that you’ll go it alone more than once). The bright side of that reality is that you’ll likely never be the only one on your own. If you feel lost in the crowd, the best way to overcome anxiety is to just break the ice. Approach someone you’d like to chat with. If you feel too nervous to convey your story concisely and with confidence, just give the general details...and then turn the attention to the other person by asking about him/her. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that new environments and people stimulate your creativity and sharpen your mind. Once you get into the flow of conversation, you will feel more comfortable talking about yourself.
If you’re unsure where to find networking events or workshops of interest, worry not. In this case, taking a little initiative goes a long way. People on social media, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, are always posting new events that are relevant to event planning. We will be revealing the launch date of Plans very shortly, which will be a super resource for event planners. In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated and informed on our blog!
Hopefully, we’ve given you some valuable networking tools...and some helpful, out-of-the-box perspectives. In an industry that is constantly evolving, it’s important to apply your creative license to networking strategies. Ultimately, if you make your main goal to relax and enjoy meeting new people, you’re more than halfway there. We wish you the best of luck there is, and that’s the ability to make your own. Happy networking!