One of the main reasons people attend conferences is to network. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people who can give advice, share stories or introduce you to others in your industry.
Networking at a conference is easier than you think and also incredibly beneficial to your professional career. While it’s important to learn and be inspired by the formal sessions at conferences, don’t disregard the value of the informal learning you receive from meeting others.
Here are some guidelines to prepare you for your next conference to ensure a successful networking experience:
Prior to the Conference
Do your research
Go into the conference with a plan. Do some research on the conference to get a better understanding of whom you may meet (directly or the type of people). Plan out which speakers you want to hear, and what booths you want to visit. Once you narrow these areas down, research who these people are, what they do, and how connecting with them will benefit you in your professional career. Find and follow them on social media. Their posts will provide you with current information and great conversation starters.
Business cards 101
Bring business cards to hand out to the people who you connect with. Don’t have any business cards? Simply put one together yourself to include your name and contact information, perhaps even your LinkedIn contact or a website address. Your cards don’t have to be professionally designed or printed, just be sure they contain your vital contact information.
During the Conference
Talk to people around you
Get to your session a little early to socialize before the presentation. Greet the people around you with a simple ‘hello’. The power of hello can be quite gratifying. Once you have broken the ice, it will be easier to talk with them if you see them again. If you feel there is a common connection, or if you want to continue the conversation, ask for their contact information to keep in touch.
Make your questions count
Don’t be shy, introduce yourself to other delegates then get the conversation going with a few questions. Everyone else is asking “Where are you from?” and “Where do you work?” Consider asking more meaningful questions like, “What are you most passionate about in this field?” and “What sessions or speakers have you enjoyed at the conference so far?” or “What brought you to the conference?” By asking questions like this, you get people talking about something they care about and something you both have in common. Just remember that when asking questions, listen well and show your genuine interest.
Put your technology away
It is a good idea to bring your technology to a conference, however, do not run to your phone, laptop or tablet at every break. When you are focused on your electronics, you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy. Utilise the time on breaks to converse with others and save the email check in for when you have downtime.
After the Conference
Once you get home from the conference, don’t forget to follow up! Many people don’t follow up after networking and miss out on enormous opportunities. However, a simple email saying that it was nice to meet them is polite enough. Use the email as a way to ask questions or open the door for connecting on social media. Sending a personalized LinkedIn request may be an appropriate way to follow up as well.
When you attend a conference, have concrete goals in mind for your networking in advance. Be both interesting and interested, and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. If you follow these simple tips, you’ll be able to meet more people, make new connections and get the most out of every conference you attend.