How can you get the most out of networking events?Networking events can be a brilliant way to make new contacts and even generate sales leads. But there’s a risk of wasting the experience if you don’t prepare properly. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of meeting new people.1. Research the eventIs it a company event, a vendor event or a wider industry event? What kind of people will be attending, and who do you want to meet? Consider whether it is likely to be an opportunity to make new contacts, or to touch base with existing ones and further build relationships.2. Reach outDon’t just hang around with work colleagues the entire time. Unless the aim is to foster internal team-building, try to forge new connections. People expect to be approached at a networking event, so it’s acceptable to politely approach and introduce yourself to others. If you find this challenging, try to find a group with one person you already know, and start by greeting them. Make sure you introduce others to people you know.3. Conversation topicsWho you are and where you work are key introduction points. Try to listen first, and then speak. Show sincere interest about other people’s companies and roles. Being across industry news and having an informed opinion on issues is important. Other safe subjects include family and kids, pets, sport, the weather, and topical news events. Avoid religion or politics. Try to get an agreement to follow up with people when you speak with them. This might be to email them a website address or article you discussed.4. Keeping contactsHave a stack of business cards ready, and exchange cards with other people. Be organised with the business cards you have collected. Some people prefer to use a card index, but it can be more versatile to digitise the information and sync it with your other contacts. There are apps that will scan cards for you, convert images to text and numbers, and automatically fill out address book fields. You may need to check these, but it’s much quicker than doing it manually.5. Follow upFollow up contacts within a couple of days through email, and include your contact details in your signature in case they lost your card. If you struggle to put names to faces after an event, or recall details, try searching for people’s profiles on their corporate website or LinkedIn. Seeing their photos may help jog your memory, or making a small note on their card can also help. If you can reference something you talked about with them, this will help personalise your follow up email and remind them who you are.Ultimately, networking is about making and building relationships. Quality is always more important than quantity. While speaking with several people is ideal, you don’t need to collect dozens of cards. Try to enjoy yourself, and even for the shy, networking events will get easier over time.Do you find networking events a good way of generating business contacts? What are your secrets of success?