Conferences provide excellent business opportunities if you know how to network effectively. At a conference with dozens or hundreds of people, it’s difficult to know where to start. Go in with the intention of making several meaningful connections instead of trying to meet every person or impress the big names. When you leave the conference, you’ll have a list of people with whom you can continue building strong business relationships.
Getting Ready to Network
Have concrete goals in mind. You can't talk to everyone at a conference, so it's a good idea to go in knowing what you want to get out of it. Do you hope to find an "in" that will eventually lead to a job offer? Do you want to garner more business for your company? Perhaps you simply want to meet people in your line of work and foster a deeper connection with others in your industry.
Your goals will influence which panels you attend and which people you seek to meet. Instead of just going with the flow, plan out your time so you're utilizing each hour to work toward your goals.
Remember that you’ll be more successful if you’re open to other people’s pitches instead of just trying to push your own agenda on people. Getting to know people is a good goal in and of itself, since it leads to long-term relationships that just don't happen if you're tossing out as many business cards as possible without taking time to have real conversations.
Research the attendees. It's important to know who your fellow attendees will be and what their specializations, business, or expertise is. In particular, look up the people who will be presenting at the conference. They are the influencers who can help you get better connected to your industry, or who may even be able to share ideas with you or give you a little time to talk through projects you're working on.
Take the time to visit the presenters' websites and learn about their backgrounds. If you're aiming to network with someone working for a company, research the company's background, including its history and age, mission, achievements, and principal staff.
If the big names floor you, and you're feeling intimated by the thought of being surrounded by experts, take a deep breath and think about the opportunity that stands before you.
Consider emailing people you want to meet. Introduce yourself to key people and let them know that you look forward to hearing their talks and meeting them in person. They will, most likely, email you back and thank you. Now you'll have a bit of history to fall back on when you see them at the conference.
Create a schedule. Figure out which panels and presentations you want to attend, and map out a schedule accordingly so you don’t miss anything important. You don't necessarily need to go to every single panel, since casual time spent in the break room or at lunch is also a good way to network with people.
Set appointments with people you know you want to meet. Everyone will have a busy schedule, but you could coordinate a coffee break or breakfast meeting with one or more people you definitely want to have a conversation with.
Plan to take advantage of parties and cocktail hours. This is when people let a little more loose, and the conversation gets less stiff. Instead of going back to your hotel, plan on networking into the night.
Dress for the occasion. Look at the conference website to get a sense of the style you should go for. At corporate conferences, business attire is the norm. If your industry tends to be more casual, you might look out of place wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. In any case, aim to look polished and stylish so you make a good first impression on people.
Some people swear by having an original style element to make themselves more memorable. If you have the personality to pull off wearing a pair of brightly colored sneakers with a suit, go for it. However, a friendly demeanor and great ideas will take you further than anything you could wear.
Don't forget to bring breath mints, a comb, and other items that will keep you looking and smelling fresh throughout the day. Conference days tend to be packed from early in the morning until late at night, so plan accordingly.
Bring business cards. Passing out business cards is an effective way to give out your contact information, although some people might prefer to enter your details directly into their mobile devices. You should also plan to carry a business card binder so you can keep track of other people's cards, too. There's nothing worse than having a great conversation with someone only to realize you lost their card and don't remember their name.
If you don't have business cards, it's worth it to get some made. Keep the design understated and professional. At the bare minimum, make sure the cards have your name, email address and phone number, and the name of your company or your occupation.
If you're terrified of giving out a business card, role play giving a business card to someone with a family member or friend. Introduce yourself first ("Hi! I'm Layla. I emailed you about your web series last week.") Then practice steering the conversation away from you and onto the other person by asking open-ended questions.
Making an Impression
Introduce yourself to people effectively. No matter who you're talking to, whether it's the person sitting next to you at a panel or someone with whom you're riding the elevator, be friendly and introduce yourself. Limit your introduction to a succinct 30 seconds, during which you say your name, who you work for and a bit about your background. Presenters, business people, and others associated with the conference will generally be time-limited and won't get much of a chance to stand around chatting with you.
Practice what you're going to say at home, so you know how long it takes and you make sure to include all pertinent information. However, try not to sound rehearsed when you give your spiel.
Pay attention to what the other person says, too, instead of being self conscious about how you came off.
Ask people meaningful questions and really hear them out. A good networker is a good listener. When you're talking to someone, focus on that person's answers to your questions and not on anybody else in the room. Limit your own talking and encourage the other person to talk. Whatever you do, no matter how excited or enamored of this person's expertise or importance you are, don't jump to conclusions about what he or she will say next and try to fill it in. Remain calm and let the person do the talking.
Enjoy talking to the other person. Remember that networking is a wonderful opportunity to get to know people, so make the most of it by enjoying it as well as trying to connect.
Be receptive to other people's spiels, too. Plan to accept as many business cards as you give out.
Talk to presenters. Go to the talks of those presenters you want to meet (especially if you emailed them expressing interest in doing so). Arrive early and sit in the front row so that you're in a good position to reach them after the talk. Listen attentively so that you can raise particular points with them afterward during your discussion. When the presentation has concluded, introduce yourself, compliment the presenter on the presentation, and ask relevant questions.
Have a list of questions you'd like to ask certain presenters. Consider picking the most important two questions in case you are time pressured.One way of getting assurance that your questions are welcome is to preface the conversation with something like: "Have I caught you at a good time? I had two quick questions I wanted to ask you."
Bear in mind that you might be able to arrange to see the person later at a dinner event or similar event during the conference if they're not free straight after their talk. Give them your business card and be sure to make a time to catch up again during the period of the conference.
If you have promotional material, a paper, or any other documentation or software that you'd like the presenter to have, be sure to have it ready and packaged up to give to the presenter.
Don’t get starstruck. As nice as it is to meet presenters, if you spend all of your time trying to meet the celebrity speakers, you’re going to waste the conference. They’ll get hundreds of business cards from other people who also want to meet them. It’s better to spend your time meeting other people in attendance, people you might actually have the chance to work with.
Those lower in a company, institution, or organization, have just as much importance as those at the top. They are the people who have time to listen to others. These people will network with integrity and can share good information with you and be important contacts, too.
For example, you might have wanted to discuss something with the professor who just gave a presentation, but he's had to rush back to his baby's birth. If his PhD student is attending the conference too, find her and ask her the questions and share your ideas. If she's convinced that you're genuine and someone definitely worth staying in touch with, she'll help remind the professor about you. Just be sure to keep in touch with both her and the professor after the conference.
Learn how to excuse yourself gracefully. There will be times when someone you're networking with doesn't turn out to be someone you want to connect with. Alternatively, you might start to realize that the other person does not appear that interested in talking with you. In either case, excuse yourself politely, thank the person for his or her time, and continue your networking with other members of the conference.
Enjoy the moment. Instead of thinking ahead too much about what talking to this or that person will get you, be in the moment and try to truly enjoy the process of meeting new people. If you like the industry you’re in, it should be fun to talk to other experts in the field. You’ll come across as someone worth getting to know better if you seem like you’re genuinely enjoying yourself. You should have as much to offer others as they have to offer you
Part3 Following Up
Send out emails within a few days. Don’t wait too long after the conference. Get in touch with people while your conversations are still fresh in your minds. That said, you should wait until the day is over before shooting off an email. When the person is still busy at the conference, emailing right away could make you seem too eager.
If you can, send a relevant article to the topic they shared. This will show that you have an avid interest in the topic and that you're willing to share information with them.
If possible, connect the person with other people you know personally or met at the conference. Share information and connections generously, as this will wind up benefiting you later.
Take advantage of social media. In addition to emailing, connect with people on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as a way to keep in touch. These mediums are important networking tools, since they help people stay connected and get to know each other better, too. Send a short message with your friend requests reminding the person who you are and stating how nice it was to talk.
If you're especially active on social media, you can tweet or post about the conference while you're still there. Tag people you've met and make positive comments about panels and the conference itself.
Stay in touch with the presenter by email and phone. If the person emails you, email back. Don't drop a connection a few days after the conference, because anything can happen. Even if the person doesn't immediately give you a lead on a new job, he or she might do so down the line. Networking is about sharing who you are and what skills you offer to the world, and if you're good at keeping in touch, people will remember you when it counts.
Consider doing your own part to advance your relationship with a connection you've made. If you see an opportunity to actually start working with the person, take things to the next level by asking them out for coffee or lunch, or asking for an informational interview.
If anyone you met calls on you for help or information, give it. You never know when someone new in the field might be in the position to help you one day.