We’ve talked extensively on Zen about how to make the most out of conference attendance and networking. But with the ILN’s European Regional Conference coming up next week, it’s at the forefront of my mind! Before we jump in, I’d like to point out that I think the word “networking” can get a bit of a bad rap. But in my mind, it’s really exchangeable with “business development.” While it doesn’t represent the entire sphere of activities that business development can encompass, when you’re effectively networking, you’re engaging in activities that can bring you more business, either now or in the future. So it’s worth investing your time and energy in.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer you five easy tips for conference networking that you can implement at your next event! 

  1. Start BEFORE the conference: Networking doesn’t begin with the first conference function. Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for successful networking:
    1. Review the attendee list, if it’s available. Who do you know already? Who would you like to meet? If it’s possible, reach out to the people you want to be assured of connecting with to set up times to meet – conferences are really hectic, and if you rely on chance, it may not happen.
    2. Use social media. Connect to people on LinkedIn, if you have the attendee list. Find out what the conference hashtag is, and start following it on Twitter (this can help you to see who to connect to as well). See if there are activities that aren’t on the official agenda that you may want to be a part of.
    3. Get your business cards ready. There’s mixed feelings about whether business cards are still used, but especially in the legal profession, people still like them. So bring a stack with you just in case, and make sure they’re a little bit different (mine are square, for example) so that they’re especially memorable.
      For more on this idea, check out this Two for Tuesdays post.
  2. Participate in the conference app. Most events will have an app these days, and they offer yet another level to your networking and connection opportunities (plus, they can keep you from missing out on any changes to the schedule and connect you immediately to other attendees and often, speakers). Take full advantage!
  3. Have a plan. It’s difficult when you’re so busy with work to give more thought to a conference than when you’re on the plane on your way there (and even then, sometimes you’re following up on client work). But you’ll get more out of it if you invest a little more time in considering what you’d like to get out of it. This relates to the work you’ve already done in your pre-conference networking, but look at each conference function, and give yourself a goal or two that you want to achieve for each session. It may be something like “meeting Bob Smith and introducing myself,” or “finding Jane Jones and talking to her about her employment practice,” or “engaging with John Marks about the new regulations in his jurisdictions and how they might affect my clients.” Obviously, you don’t want to limit your conversations to *just* business, since all conferences will have a social component as well, and it’s about getting to know, like and trust each other too. So mix up your goals with things like “meet three people from three different cities, and find out their favorite foods/sports,” or “meet two people who have never been to this event before,” etc. You can make this fun and interesting, by trying to make your networking a bit more unconventional, with these tips.
  4. Be social. As  you may have guessed, this is where I tell you to use social media. Both before, during and after the event, social media can be a valuable tool to supercharge your conference efforts. We’ve already talked about the pre-conference uses, but here’s some other things you may want to consider:
    1. Connect to fellow attendees as you meet them on LinkedIn, using the mobile app. That way, you can be sure you have the right “Bob Smith” as you’re speaking with him. The mobile app can also tell you what common connections you have, and whether you might have connections that you should be introducing your new friends to.
    2. Give yourself a calendar reminder within the two weeks following a conference to review their profiles to see what commonalities you share.
    3. Keep an eye on other conference uses of social media, be it Twitter, LinkedIn groups, or even Facebook and Instagram! Where are the people you’re meeting connecting and engaging? Where can YOU connect and engage with them?
  5. Plan your follow-up. Networking doesn’t end with the last goodbye at a conference event, but we all know how slammed we can be returning to the office after being away for a networking event. So let’s be more intentional with our networking follow-up. As I mentioned above, give yourself a calendar reminder to review your new friends’ LinkedIn profiles, and let this serve as a reminder to follow up generally as well:
    1. As you see commonalities, either professionally or personally, consider how you might use those to follow up with your connections.
    2. Whenever you do follow up with someone, make it a habit to put another reminder in your calendar for the next follow up opportunity.
    3. Send some photos from the event, particularly if they include the two of you.
      Read more about post-conference networking here.

For more networking hacks, check out some of my previous posts on networking, including Networking Sucks: Now What? and The Value of Conference Networking (which serves as a good roundup). Happy connecting!