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What can you do to prepare for a networking event? How can you gain that competitive advantage? There are several parts to this – we need to be prepared, educated and informed. This will always give you the upper hand and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your networking at the events and most importantly your results afterwards.

Preparation is key for anything we do in life. Look at athletes – they spend countless hours practicing over and over again for their performance in the game. Why should it be any different in networking? So what is basic preparation in networking? Let’s start by discussing something that most of us don’t do. As soon as we calendar an event, we need to calendar time in advance of the event for the preparation. I know, nobody does that, but it is essential. The preparation is vital.

Now that you have calendared the time, we need to use it effectively. First off, identify the organizers of the event. Review the details, learn who the host of the organization is and their team an of course examine all of the attendees. Read whatever profiles exist for them in the context of the event and online. Check their social media profiles. One important tip here – do not just rely on LinkedIN – remember networking and connecting is mainly a social game. Look at their Facebook business page but also see if you can access their Facebook personal page and find out what really is important to them!!

Now you can start identifying some of your talking points that no longer have to center around business alone. Maybe it’s a sports team, fine wine or you see that they like to vacation in the same places as you. These will be the perfect conversation pieces at the event.

Make sure you also know the purpose of the event or the organization as this will also help you to better engage with the participants.

Now after you have reviewed everything, identify the people that you think you want to speak with the most. Now, think about it two dimensionally, and what I mean by that is – remember this is a networking event – not a targeting event. While you definitely want to meet your direct opportunities in the room, often the best opportunities will be the people that you already have social commonalities with as it will be easier to connect with them. So make a list of both and write down a quick couple of talking points for each.

Next make sure have an abundance of business cards ready for the event and make sure they are somewhere where you will not forget them.

Have a system in place for when you meet people. One tip you can take from my “Top 10 Networking Tips” article is to make sure you have a working pen on you at all times. You can then use that pen to make notes right after you meet someone. The best way to organize that is to use their business card and record a simple nugget of information that helps you rememberto help you have future recall of the context and details of your meeting.

Getting educated means that you know about the event and its participants. Learn about the organization. If there is a roster of online participants take a look at them – if their is no profile – search them on the Internet and learn as much as you can – more importantly check them on LinkedIn and Facebook and see if you are connected to them and how. Try and determine who the influencers are by what they are doing online. Learn about the organizer of the event as they know everybody and you obviously want to connect with them. Another tip is to remember that you need to come to the event as a giver. Think about how you can help these people – do you have any connections that will obviously benefit them. This will be a great conversation piece at the event. But I have an even better tip. You are now doing your homework – so why not let yourself stand out in advance of the event g- reach out to these people let them know you want to meet them and introduce them to these great connections now!!! You are going to stand out – they are going to want to help you back as now you just established yourself as an influencer. I guarantee you that 99% of your competition is not even thinking about this let alone doing it