Networking matters. But “How to Network at a Conference” is still a question that is asked by business professionals in across industry lines. At large conventions and small meetings, having participants make meaningful connections is key for the event to be a success.
The people who know how to network at a conference before they arrive on site always have an advantage over everybody else. Getting out in front of the crowd and establishing relationships is one of the best ways to increase the ROI of attending events.
One of the top reason people cite for attending conferences is the “Networking Opportunities”, but once at the event many people stink at connecting with people. They barely make eye contact with their fellow attendees, and getting them talking to people they do not already know can be difficult.
Yet surveys continuously tell meeting organizers that participants want more opportunities to meet people and engage in networking activities. How you network at conference directly impacts the way you view the experience.
Have A Plan
Having a plan is the most important thing you can do. Showing up and just bouncing around will leave you without results. Making networking a priority and being focused on how to help others will get you engaged with people. When people have a plan and take actions they get the most value from attending events.
Follow up is the key to creating mutually beneficial and ongoing conversations. What happens at the conference is only the beginning of the relationship with the person you meet. If you do not have a strategy to follow up you will not have relationships. A stack of cards with no ongoing contact is a waste.
Face-to-face connecting still trumps social media This is why the meetings industry is thriving. These networking contacts that come from intentional efforts at conferences are the seeds that lead to ongoing career success. It is important to remember that successful networking connections never happens by accident.
Conference tips for better networking are only useful when the culture of the event is focused on why networking matters. People don’t automatically talk to each other in ways that lead to connections.
Ten years ago I morphed my role as a speaker and became known a “The Conference Catalyst”. Too many presentations are the same no matter who is in the audience, and the speaker quickly leaves. I built my speaking business on being part of the event community before, during and after the meeting. I write blog posts before the event, participate on the conference app, post on Twitter (using the conference hashtag), and show up at all happy hours and meals.
How To Network At A Conference (as we enter “Conference Season”)
1. 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 trade show booths you want to visit. Do not wander
2. Bring plenty of business cards. In today’s digital world some argue against the importance of business cards. But having business card is not for you, it is for the other person. Some people forget names quickly and asking for a card helps them recall you later. Telling someone “Google Me” is making them work to keep in touch. Additionally we don’t all use the same technologies, so using a digital tool assumes we all adopt the same technologies. Not carrying business cards can be selfish, and selfish is so last year!
3. Do not focus on meeting the celebrity speakers. While meeting famous authors, speakers, and other gurus in your industry is fun, you are one of hundreds who will come up to them and shove a card in their hands. Instead, place your focus on meeting other people in attendance at the event. It is the meeting participants who you are most likely to create real long lasting mutually beneficial friendships.
4. Talk to the people sitting next to you. When you walk into a break out room or meal, take the time before the program begins to say hello to the people seated around you. I call this the “power of hello”. Once you have said something as simple as “hello”, it will be easier to talk with them later. (If you want to know the most important tip on how to network at a conference, this is key)
5. Ask questions of people you meet. Never lead with your “elevator pitch”. People are more interested in themselves than they are in you, so ask them questions to help them get to talking.
6. Put your technology away. Do not run to your iPhone or laptop at every break. When you are working on electronics you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy. Utilize the time on breaks to converse with others. Look around and smile rather than texting like crazy. If you need to check email, simply go down the hallway so you are not in the middle of the crowd while checking electronics.
7. Do not automatically send a LinkedIn or Facebook request. Too often people immediately send social networking link requests to people they just met. However, different people have different policies about whom they link with. If they believe in only connecting with those whom they have established relationships, you make it awkward if you send them a link too early (which they then ignore). Best is to ask people if they would welcome such a link at this time. Be respectful of the fact that they might use social networking differently than you do. Immediately following them on Twitter is okay, as Twitter does not require a mutual connection acceptance.
(*And do not add people’s email address to your newsletter list without their permission)
8. Follow their content. Many people are active bloggers, tweeters, podcasters, authors, etc… If people create content, seek out their work and consume it. This is a great way to get to know people and they will also be honored when you tell them that you read their blog or follow them on Twitter.
9. Introduce others. When you meet cool people, be the conduit that connects them with others who might be beneficial to them. This includes others at the conference, as well as other people you might know back home. If you ask the right types of questions, you will easily spot connections that can help others. Don’t ever worry about “what’s in it for me”, but instead just be the person who helps others. You will over time that others will help you too.
10. Follow up. If you meet interesting people and you never follow up, it makes no difference. Own the follow up after you meet people and send them an email (or better yet, a handwritten note) telling them how much you enjoyed talking with them, and plan for future discussions.
Make Networking A Priority
If you are attending a conference, make networking a priority. You have to do more than ask “How to network at a conference”, you must take have a strategic networking plan. Then take action. No matter if you are an introvert or and extrovert, people are key to your success. If the conference offers and optional “Speed Networking” session, make sure you attend. Many people skip these events, but they can be just what you need to make that one extra contact that will have a big impact on your success at the conference.
For Meeting Planners
When planning for your event, make sure that you are doing the right education for your audience on how to network at a conference. Do not assume that they will naturally take advantage of all the opportunities. People want to make connections, but fail to maximize their results at most conferences.
Hire “The Conference Catalyst” to be the opening keynote speaker or the master of ceremonies / emcee for your conference.
This post has had some recent attention, so I added this video about how to network at a conference on my YouTube Channel that covers part of the topic.
Thom Singer is a motivational keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies (EmCee). He is known as “The Conference Catalyst” for the way he gets event participants to engage at live events. He is also the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. www.ThomSinger.com