Even in the age of social media, face-to-face networking events provide essential business growth and career progression.

Most industries offer some way of people connecting to gain future working relationships. Preparation and a plan of attack help prevent floundering at these occasions.

Attendees should have a checklist and a planned approach to get the most out of their time. Failure to do so can lead to a wasted journey.

Knowledge

Knowledge of the market is vital to understanding an organisation's position in its environment. Networking can help increase this. It is an abundant source of new sales leads or reinforce current customers' relationships. Refusing to take part can lead to isolation and stagnation.

Another benefit to networking events is for those hoping to boost their career. Learn about the companies out there and chat with their representatives to find a new job. If you have something to say, offer to be a keynote speaker in future events and raise your profile.

Apart from functions aimed at socialising, there are plenty of chances to network at other kinds of events. Conferences, product demonstrations, TEDx talks, and even business meetings can provide opportunities.

Capitalise on these to promote your organisation (or yourself) and gain important contacts.

Before the event

Stock up on business cards. You will need to think about this in advance. An online printer like Helloprint can turn an order around quickly but consider whether your card's design works. A clean format will go a long way towards looking professional but standing out from the crowd is also important.

Make sure you have the venue address and any ticketing sorted in advance. Apps such as Eventbrite will often allow you to keep the essential information on your mobile phone.

Read the scheduled program and highlight the topics. Get thinking about how they could help you. Do you want to reach out to a keynote speaker? Or is your time better spent seeking out potential customers from the audience?

If there is a delegate list published ahead of time, research them on LinkedIn to further hone your targeting.

Are there any clients or current contacts you think should be going to the event too? Reach out to them to let them know you'll be going and you hope to see them there. The time that you've taken to think about them will leave a good impression.

What to bring with you?

Bring your business cards and a pen and record notes on who you have spoken to. The easiest way to do this is to jot on the back of the business card they've given you. Leave a few promotional pens or gifts with your company logo, or some flyers scattered around.

Covering the proceedings live on social media is a great way to get feedback from the hosts and increases your own brand's profile. Others doing the same will also be able to connect with you. Find out what the event hashtags will be and take plenty of photos on your mobile phone.

Keep your eyes open and learn everything that you can while you enjoy the canapes. Pick up leaflets. Photograph any other interesting material, such as presentation slides, for reference.

Break the ice

One of the most awkward things can be trying to start a conversation with a complete stranger.

Try to prepare one or two things to say, and don't be shy about asking them who they are and what they do. After all, they are probably having as much difficulty thinking of something to say as you are.

Small talk, such as about the catering, the weather, or the journey there can be great, just beware not to disparage the event as you might be talking to an organiser!

After the event

Follow up your contacts with emails the next day. Remind them a little of what you spoke about (which you will know because you jotted it on the back of their business card). Send them links to your website and social media feeds.

The aim is to form a meaningful relationship with potential future business partnerships. Be sure to also offer something a little special such as a discount, or a free consultation if you can. Even a free coffee mug (with your logo printed on it) would be a gesture that will help them remember you.

Comment on their company blog and follow their social media feeds to keep the conversation going. This will work especially well with smaller organisations that thrive on word of mouth and recommendations.

With a little creativity and a lot of planning, anyone can find meaningful connections and gain vital business intelligence at a networking event.