Top tips for networking at conferences

Part of the reason we go to conferences is to meet other people. Yet how often have you left the event feeling that you made few or no connections? Here are some top tips to help you get the most out of the networking opportunities:

Pre-conference prep

Have a plan. Know in advance whom you want to meet (directly or the type of people), which speakers you want to hear, and what exhibition stands you want to visit.

Blog or tweet about the fact that you’re going. Blog about the sessions you’re planning to attend. Find out the Twitter tag for the conference. Look up the speakers and some of the other participants’ blogs.

Set appointments in advance. If you know that there will be people attending whom you know that you would like to see, call or email a few weeks in advance to schedule a time to meet for coffee, a meal, or a drink. Don’t hope to “run into them”, as your paths might not cross at a time when you can spend quality time together.

During the conference

The what-do-you-do question is bound to surface. People tend to make 3 mistakes when answering this question.  They either give their sector, job title or else go on a ramble. All of which are dangerously boring. If you want to Make yourself Memorable, you need to stick to the 7 principles. Keep an ear out for things you can help with or people you can introduce.

Introduce others. When you meet interesting people, think about who else they may find interesting. This includes those at the conference, as well as other people you might know at home.

Talk to the people sitting next to you. Get to the presentation early. Once you’ve said hi, it will be easier to strike up another conversation later in the day if you see them again. It’s a bit like sitting next to someone new on a train or plane.  Unless you say something in the first five minutes you won’t say anything at all for the whole journey.  Right? Each day aim to sit next to new people.

Ask questions of the speakers. My curiosity got the better of me at one conference and so I posed a question.  Literally 5 people came up to me in the break and started talking to me about what I’d asked. Instantly easy.

Or if asking your question in front of everyone else seems too bold, see if you can find the speaker after the talk. (This is a good idea in any case.) Introduce yourself to him or her in a concise way and ask your intelligent question.

Break times

Put your technology away. Do not run to your phone or laptop at every break. Just remember to put an out of office message on your phone and emails. Make the most of the opportunity to broaden your network.

Conference buddies. If you have a networking buddy, conferences are much nicer. If you’re looking out for potential introductions for each other–interesting people your networking buddy might want to meet–you’ll cover more of the conference and have more interesting conversations.

They can step in and introduce themselves in order to elicit a name from someone you don’t want to admit you’ve forgotten.

Business cards. Carry business cards, a notebook, and a pen. If possible, put your picture on your business card. We’ve all had those moments of going through stacks of business cards and not remembering who they came from. Make it easy for people to remember you.

Create value with your card. You could put a link to your site where they can find your blog or some top tips. It’s a nice gesture and it sometimes gets people talking about you.

After the conference

Follow up. Follow up with people through e-mail or phone calls. Book out time post-conference to do this.

Blog about what you learned from the conference. People often want to be in more than one session at a time, and your notes can be quite valuable. Blog a post-conference summary, too.

A conference is a fairly big chunk of time and tickets can be pricey so make sure you make the most of it!

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