If you want to be part of the events and creative design industry, especially in Austin, you’ve got to be able to network effectively. After all, strong working relationships are the engines that drive successful businesses, and networking is a great way to develop those relationships.

Networking happy hours can be intimidating, though, even with the promise of free wine and food. While some of us love meeting new people, others can feel a bit overwhelmed when facing a room full of strangers that they want to win over. Fortunately, even the most introverted creative professional can find a way to make meaningful connections happen at these kinds of events. Red Velvet Events’ Laura Campbell was willing to share some of her networking secrets and how she thinks beyond the business card exchange.

In the past, networking happy hours were all about exchanging business cards while enjoying a glass of wine. Now, they seem to have evolved beyond business cards. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Laura: I agree that networking has changed – it is definitely more than just exchanging business cards, though that still happens. Now when I’m networking, I try to make connections and start developing a relationship with the person with whom I’m speaking. Most business transactions happen when you have a strong relationship with your client, and that starts with the first conversations you have. People aren’t buying only on price – it’s also about an established relationship.

Before attending a networking happy hour, what homework do you do to make the most of it?

Laura: If there is an attendee list, I do try to get it and find a colleague or buddy to go with me. Once I have the list, I perform some research and figure out who I want to make sure I have a conversation with. If there isn’t an attendee list, then I find out all I can about the organization and who typically attends these happy hours.

Red Velvet Events is very intentional with approach to events, design, and the creative process overall. How do you apply being intentional to the networking process and experience?

Laura: When going to a networking event, I always go with a plan. You’re taking time out of your day to go, so you have to make the most of it. Sometimes, my plan might be as simple as to meet five new people; other times, I have specific people I want to have a conversation with or at least say hi to. And you must follow up – this can be a quick note that says, “It was nice seeing you at XYZ Event.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add about regarding making meaningful connections in this industry?

Laura: Try to have a few interesting things to talk about, like the last movie you saw or want to see, or something that’s happening in the city. That way, you’re not always talking about business. And remember that everyone is there to network, so don’t be nervous or feel awkward saying hi to other attendees!