On this Two for Tuesdays, we’re gearing up for next week’s European Regional Meeting in Oslo! Our conferences always get me thinking about best practices for networking, so that my attorneys can make the most out of their conference attendance (and you can too!).
It’s easy to think of networking as something that happens only AT a conference or event, but if you’ve been reading along here at Zen, you know that it’s something that really occurs before, during and after. Since we’ve still got over a week until the conference kicks off, let’s focus today on two tips for networking before a conference.
Tip One: Review & Reach Out
While not all organizers do this, many of them will make an attendee list available prior to the conference or event taking place. If you really want to make the most out of your conference networking, study this list as soon as you get it.
You’re looking for companies, firms, geographic locations, specialties and more that may have some strategic crossover for you. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll use the ILN conferences as our example here for networking opportunities. Let’s say that your firm has done a few referrals with a firm in London, and that firm will have a representative at the conference. Put a star next to their name in your attendee list.
Look for cities where you know you’ll be visiting in the next few months, or where you traditionally do or refer a lot of work. See if the chair of the industry group you belong to will be in attendance. As you go through the list, put a mark next to the names of those you want to connect with – both those you have met already, and those you haven’t met yet.
The next step is to reach out – starting with LinkedIn is a great way to do this. Search for their name on LinkedIn and send them a connection request – make sure that you personalize it, and let the know that you’re both members of the same organization, and you’ll be attending the same event in a few days’ time.
Use this opportunity to also do a little due diligence on them. Look through their profile and get a sense of their expertise, their schooling, some of the work that they’ve done, etc. and make note of some possible talking points for when you meet them in person.
Find out if the organization offers a LinkedIn group for the group or the conference itself, and make sure that you’re a part of it. You can post a general query to the group, mentioning your attendance and that you’re looking forward to meeting everyone. If you’re arriving a day early (as I always suggest!), make note that you’re looking for a few people to meet for dinner. Even a small conference can benefit from breaking the group down even further to network, and some of the most valuable conversations happen around the dinner table the night before the conference.
All of these things make it easier to break the ice once you’re meeting them in person at the event – plus, you have built in follow-up after the conference as well!
Tip Two: Have a Plan
In addition to the above, you want to use the time before a conference to put together your plan. Look through the list of those you’ve starred, and prioritize them in order of the people you absolutely must meet and talk to during the event.
Although you’ve already reached out and connected on LinkedIn, now is the time to set up a definite meeting with them. We work to make sure that we juggle the groups as much as possible during a conference, so that everyone gets the chance to meet everyone else, but it’s not always possible to do so. You can’t rely on all meetings to happen naturally, so it’s worth stepping in beforehand and setting it up.
Try to build it into the natural flow of the conference, as conferences are usually jam packed with activities and no attendee wants to add anything in. Perhaps you arrange to meet by the doors of the meeting room for the coffee break, or try to sit next to each other. Or you arrange to sit together at lunch or dinner. Or you suggest meeting a few minutes early for the evening’s activities at the bar for a drink.
This way, you’re assured that the other person is at least on the lookout for you, and you have a plan to meet up and get to know each other a little better.
Another option is to talk to the conference organizers or regular conference attendees and ask them to introduce you to the person you’re looking for. I make it a point to know everyone attending our meetings, so I’m more than happy to make introductions during the cocktail receptions or coffee breaks. Make sure you’re asking at a quiet moment though, because as a conference organizer, I can tell you that it’s hard to focus on introductions when I’m trying to put out a fire somewhere else!
As with any plan, you also want to review it daily during the conference – at the end of the day, look at your attendee list again and make note of who you met, and a sentence or two about what you discussed (this is for later, when you want to follow up). Take a look at who is left on your list of "must meets" and tell yourself you’ll renew your efforts to meet them the following day. You may even want to send them a quick email to say "I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet up with you today. Let’s grab breakfast together in the morning." Then, arrange to meet them five or ten minutes before the official breakfast time starts, so that you’ll be sure to run into each other.
Each of these tips take just a little bit of extra time and effort, but will make your conference and event attendance MUCH more valuable. As you do them more regularly, you’ll find they become routine and natural, and your networking efforts will skyrocket!
What other pre-conference networking tips do you have? Please add them in the comments below!