One week from today, I leave for our Annual Meeting in Sicily, which has got one major thing on my mind (aside from last minute details) and that is NETWORKING.
This is our largest conference of the year, so it presents a LOT of opportunities for our delegates to take advantage of the networking opportunities that are available to them just by showing up. But as with any marketing or business development activity, you only get out of it what you put into it.
Yes, it would be nice if you could walk away from an event with little or no effort and have business thrown right into your lap, but it just doesn’t work that way (once in a blue moon, the stars will align and it will happen, but that’s luck, not networking).
So today, I wanted to focus on some dos and don’ts of conference networking, in the hopes that whether you’re a consummate networking professional or a first timer, you’ll get something out of this list!
I’m going to put these in bullet formatting for a quick list you can zip through, so let’s go!
Conference Networking Dos
- Make eye contact when you’re speaking with someone and watch your body language – even if you aren’t sure if it’s a valuable connection right off the bat, treat everyone as if they’re the most important person you’ll speak to that day. They’ll remember it, and whether they have business for you in the future, or can refer someone else to you, they will.
- Attend every event on the schedule, even the ones that look boring or out of your comfort zone.
- Come prepared – look through the attendee list in advance and choose five people that you want to make sure to meet before the end of the conference.
- Know what your "headline" is – Have one short sentence that describes you, your practice and how you help clients (the keys here being "short" and "how you help clients").
- Connect to attendees on social media.
- Follow the conference hashtag and engage with organizers and other attendees.
- Have a few ice breakers prepared, in case there’s a conversational lull. For some of you, this may be a foreign feeling, but for those of us who are introverts, it can help to have these in your back pocket (mentally) – things like "is this your first time to x city?" or "is this your first x conference?" That way, if it’s someone you don’t know too well, and you run out of things to talk about, but you don’t want the conversation to end yet, you have a couple of ideas prepared.
- Wear your name tag constantly. It identifies you as a conference participant, so even an elevator ride becomes an opportunity to network.
- Bring your business cards, and a pen. When you exchange them, make sure to make a note of when and how you met the person and what you discussed (after your conversation, not during), so that you can remember what you talked about for when you follow up.
- Introduce yourself to the organizers and speakers if the opportunity presents itself – don’t interrupt them in the middle of a busy time, but let them know who you are, that you appreciate their speech, or hard work, and in the case of the organizers, if there’s anyone you’d like them to connect you with.
- FOLLOW UP. Send an email, mail a thank you note with a photo from the conference, share an article you had talked about – don’t let that new connection falter.
Conference Networking Don’ts
- Sit in your hotel room. Even if you hang out in the lobby, chances are you’ll run into someone else from the conference and have the opportunity to network.
- Dine alone. Whether you arrive early or are leaving late, try to find someone else attending the event that you can grab a meal with.
- Spend time only with your friends. While it’s a time to reconnect, if you spend the entire conference with the colleague from down the hall, you’re not networking with new potential avenues for business. Yes, it’s difficult to break out of your comfort zone and talk to new people, sit down next to someone else at the business session, eat with different people at meals, etc. But that’s why you’re at this conference. So do it.
- Be a speed networker. While you do want to meet as many people as you can, it’s more valuable to have deeper conversations with fewer people than to thrust your business card at 20 people as you’re moving on to the next person. The people that do the latter are only memorable because they’re considered rude, and their cards generally end up forgotten or in the garbage. Make memorable, instead of trying to make many, connections.
- Focus only on yourself. The most memorable people you meet are the ones who make you feel special, and that happens when you spend time focusing on the other person. So ask questions, probe deeper into the answers that they give (without being too nosy or personal), and get them talking about the things they’re passionate about.
What are some of your dos and don’ts for conference networking? Add them in the comments below!