I was having a conversation the other day with a colleague and he mentioned that he doesn’t go to in-person networking events anymore because he doesn’t really get anything out of them.

This seemed a bit odd to me, but I get it.  Many people go to a networking event because they are looking for new clients or prospects.  When the expectations aren’t met, they get discouraged and eventually stop showing up.  Here are my 3 tips for getting the most out of in-person networking.

1.  Don’t expect to walk away with new clients.  I don’t know about you, but I always have specific conversations with prospective clients to find out what they need help with and if we are a good fit to work with each other.  I’ve never been at a networking event where it was possible to have that type of conversation with someone. Sure, they may give you some general information, but to really figure out if we’d work well together, I want to have a conversation where we’re both focused on our one conversation and not possibly being distracted by the event.

2.  Build the relationship first.  Networking is about building relationships and connections.  Think of it as dating.  The networking event is where you’re meeting for the first time.  Buying from you/working together is like getting married.  Would you ask someone to marry you right after you met them? I hope not.  Yet some people at networking events are trying to “get married” right then and there.

It’s important to build a relationship first.  If you meet someone who may be your ideal client or who may be a great referral source for you, suggest meeting later in the week for coffee to learn more about their business.  Be willing to do the same for people you meet who may not be able to do “anything for you,” but maybe you could send referrals to them.  Remember, it’s building a relationship and relationships aren’t just one sided.

3. Choose the events you go to wisely.  I like a good party as much as the next person, but not while I’m trying to do business, so I avoid the “happy hour” networking events.  I’ve been to networking events where I thought the other attendees were closed off and not very friendly to new people.  I quit going to those as well.

I like to find networking groups that give off a helpful vibe.  I want to help others build their businesses and I want others to help me build mine. Once I find a good group, I go into the event with an attitude of “how can I help them”, instead of an attitude of “what’s in it for me.” That one change in perspective gets rid of any expectations I might have.  If I meet a prospect, great, if not, great.  Who did I get to connect with, that’s more important to me.

Please comment below on what tips you would add to this list.