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So you're nervous about attending your first networking event. Here's what you should expect, and what you should do to maximize your experience:
Like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared: Before you go to the event, prepare yourself. Bring a stack of business cards, as well as any brochures or samples you have about your business. Create an “elevator speech” to tell the people you meet who you are and what you do. It should be 30-60 seconds long. Practice your speech until you are confident and comfortable giving it.
Dress for the occasion. Networking events are business affairs, so dress accordingly.
Once You're There: You'll get your name tag at the reception area. Once in the room, survey the scene. There may be businesses set up at booths around the room, or dining tables if a meal will be served.
Decide where you want to start. Pick a person or table that looks interesting and introduce yourself (your speech will come in handy). Ask lots of questions: what is your line of business? How long have you been operating? You will learn how to ask questions that lead up to pumping your own company. Keep them talking, and you're likely to pick up needs they have that you can fill.
Don't Forget: Get the business card of everyone you talk to, whether they seem like a future client or not. Sometimes networking relationships take a while to cultivate, and while someone you meet may not need your services that day, they very well may call you down the road.