Time! Time! There’s just no time. When I get back from networking events, it’s tempting to think I must immediately start on the day’s regular work and leave the stack of business cards to be sorted over lunch break.

But like misquoting The White Rabbit, that would be a horrible mistake. There is time. And networking is work. It deserves just as much attention. Here’s what I do before, during and after each networking event to take full advantage of its opportunities.

Before You Go

The best post-mortem starts with preparation before you even go to the event.

Check your business card supply a few days before. Fill up your business card holder, or at least slip a few in your wallet. Refill the stash in your glove box. If you’re going to a speed-networking event, where it’s expected you’ll pass a stack around the table, make sure you’ve at least 20 (six for each round plus extra).

Check your website and make sure it’s working properly and up-to-date.

Practice answering “What do you do?” This is your elevator pitch. You may not expect to meet Jony Ive at the sign-in table, but everyone you meet is an opportunity and a connection to their own network. Say something meaningful when they ask! And it’s worth practicing so the words come out naturally.

Decide who you want to meet. Some events provide a list of attendees to everyone coming. Pick two or three people to prioritize meeting.

Make time for the post-mortem. Seriously. Put something on the calendar for yourself, 30 minutes to an hour dedicated to finishing strong. Then you can go on with your day and not feel like there’s something undone.

When You Go

Be yourself. Those people you really want to meet? Say hi if you can, or say hi to someone else they know. You might need to make a few other connections first.

Something I learned at speed networking events: bring your own pen. Take notes about someone on their business card if you have it. Take notes about someone on someone else’s card if you need to. These little notes, like “Knows my boss” or “needs a website” will help after the event is over.

After Networking

Once you’ve said goodbye and driven off, what’s next? There has to be a next step, the payoff to the hard work you did preparing for and rocking that event. Finally, you get to do that post-mortem.

First, get your stuff organized and focus in on reviewing those business cards and notes. Here’s the quick checklist I follow to kick-start the post-mortem process:

  • Sit down, leave the computer turned off.
  • Get your pen and some sticky notes.
  • Organize the business cards into priority piles: follow-up now, keep, toss.
  • Toss the cards you don’t care about.
  • Turn on the computer. Send a thank-you email to the event organizer.
  • Ask to connect on LinkedIn with everyone in the follow-up pile.

Neat! That was a good 10-15 minutes, right? Next step: chill a minute, maybe get that second cup of coffee.

Ok, let’s push on. The next steps require more thought and some of those sticky notes.

Use a sticky note to write one way you can give back to each of the people in your follow-up pile. Before you ask someone for their help or their attention, give them something first! Reciprocity is a powerful thing. And you don’t have to give your first born or anything. Share a link to a helpful article or resource from your website. Suggest a solution to their problem or make an introduction.

Something else to write down: decide who to invite for coffee. Try to find at least one person to meet up with after the event. If you’ve just met someone, it might take a few back and forth emails or meeting again at the next event before it’s right to meet for coffee. Please, please do not ask me to meet if we talked for 2 seconds at speed networking.

But if you’ve built a little bit of a relationship, the event follow up is a great opportunity to take the next step.

Now that you’ve annotated that follow-up pile, use it to write short emails. Tell your new friends it was great to meet them, tell your old friends “nice to see you again!” etc. Then share that nugget of goodness you wrote on the sticky note or make that coffee invite and release them!

Hit Send before spending a second agonizing over the content. You may not get a response for days, or ever. But you tried and it’s time to move on to the last few tasks.

Reorder business cards! Speed networking eats up cards like crazy. Don’t forget to reorder before you run out.

Do some self-reflection! Technically, this is the real post-mortem. It’s where you think about what went well and what didn’t. Did you meet the people you wanted to meet? Were you satisfied with the event? Would you go back? Think about it now.

Next, review your calendar. Where are you going next?

Networking Habit

Roundpeg is an Indianapolis marketing strategy firm.