In business, networking is one of the most important skills you can have. However, if you are new to the workforce or to a particular industry, networking can be a challenge and your first networking event can be daunting.

If you know how to approach it, however, you will likely find that your first event (and those which follow) yield great pay offs for your career or your business. Follow these top tips for navigating your first networking event for maximum success.

Be Prepared

Prep for your first networking event by researching the events’ attendees. When you sign up for the event, ask the organisers for a list of attendees, then do some research on each one. Knowing a little about the attendees will not only help you to make conversation with them, it will also let you identify the people that you most want to connect with so that you can make sure to talk to them. You can even prepare a few questions you want to ask these key people, as well as prepping some general conversation starters.

Appearance is Important

The old adage that first impressions matter is still true today: people will judge you on your appearance and use this to form conclusions about your professionalism. Be sure to wear something professional, even if your own workplace has a casual dress code. How formal you dress will depend on the industry and its conventions, however it is better to err on the side of over-dressed, rather than under-dressed.

Be Friendly

This may seem obvious, but remember to smile! At your first networking event you are likely to be nervous and this may translate to your face. So remind yourself to relax, breath, and put a big smile on your face. A smile goes a long way to making you seem open and welcoming, encouraging people to talk to you. Be particularly friendly by asking them questions about themselves and, importantly, listening to the answers. Small talk is important to break the ice and form a connection before even thinking about talking business.

Sell Yourself

Having friendly, casual conversation is important for building relationships, but you also need to remember why you’re there. Be sure to tell the people you meet who you are and what you do. It is important to be concise when you do this: 2 to 3 sentences will suffice. You may be tempted to talk about your entire personal and professional history, exciting new projects and so on, but remember that people have short attention spans, so get to the point. This will then give your new contacts to ask questions, when you can expand further.

You Don’t Need To Go Alone

One thing which many first-time attendees at networking events don’t realise is that they can actually bring a friend with them. Having a friend or colleague accompany you to a networking event is a great way to curb your nerves and give you a social safety net. It also presents opportunities for you to promote each other – it is much easier to sign someone else’s praises than your own. Think about your friends and colleagues who could also benefit from the event and convince them to come with you!

Networking at a Trade Show

Trade shows are a great networking opportunity, particularly if you are exhibiting. Trade shows attract the who’s who of that given sector or industry, so they are the perfect opportunity to connect with not only customers, but also suppliers and industry peers. They are slightly different from other types of networking events, however, so require a specific approach. Do your research ahead of time and see what kind of people are likely to attend the event, and preferably the individual attendees, to identify the people you want to meet. Prepare the questions and action items you want to incorporate into your conversations.

As an exhibitor, the best way to network with as many people as possible is to have a great booth which will draw in the crowds. Companies such as Fret Free Productions in London build custom trade booths which attract more visitors and encourage them to spend more time there, giving you more opportunity to network.

Networking events are a fantastic way to meet new contacts and make connections which can be highly beneficial to your business or your career in the long term. Attending your first network event can be daunting, but by applying these simple tips you are sure to breeze through it!