How to Network at a Conference

Will you be attending a conference? We hear repeatedly that most people attend conferences because they see it as a great opportunity to network. Here are some quick tips so that you are able to network successfully.

12 Tips to help you Network at a Conference

There are a number of different reasons why people attend conferences. Some people want to showcase their products while others want to sit in on presentations, but something that we consistently hear is that the main reason they attend is to network. You get to meet industry leaders and share knowledge with like minded people. Networking is more than just talking to people, it’s building meaningful relationships that can be mutually beneficial. We know that networking is trickier than it sounds, which is why we collected some information about how to make the process more comfortable.

1. Avoid distractions.

Do what you have to do so that your full attention is on the conference and not on checking your email. If you are going to be away from the office, set up an automated response to let people know when you’ll be back.You can also ask a colleague to serve as an immediate contact if there is something that needs to be taken care of right away. By getting rid of possible distractions, the conference will have your full attention. If you must check emails, try to do it before the conference starts or at the end of the day. You don’t want to give off the wrong impression by making it look like you don’t want to talk to anyone.

2. Practice your entrance and exit.

According to Sandy Jones-Kaminski, it is important to know how to make an entrance but it is just as important to know how to leave gracefully.

Most people want to automatically talk to the person that is sitting alone and strike up a conversation. You might think that it’s easier to talk to just one person but realize that there’s more pressure in that one relationship. What if they don’t like to talk or what if you don’t have anything in common? Although it might be intimidating, if you see a large group, try to join them – especially if there is an uneven number of people. With a large group, you’re likely to find someone that you can speak with directly, giving you more options and eliminating some of the awkwardness.

Once you notice the conversation is starting to dull out or you want to chat with other people, Sandy recommends saying something like this to leave respectfully:

“Well, Chris, I enjoyed hearing about your business (or work or goals or history with TriNet), but I need to find my colleague (or the ladies room, or the bar, or the event host) and I will definitely keep your card handy should I think of any ideas (or resources or clients or partners) for your project (or book or search or services).”

3. Listen, listen, listen.

Many times, we get caught up in telling people all about our company or ourselves. If you want people to genuinely like you though, ask questions.  People like to feel like they’re being heard. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Focus on making other people feel comfortable and you are more likely to develop a better relationship.

Thomas Smale also recommends that we remember not to brag or boast and that we try to be genuinely interested in the person we just met.

“There is always one person that wants to constantly tell everyone how great he or she is, and how their company is “crushing it” All rewarding business relationships are born when there is a genuine connection made — not a BS session followed by a business card exchange.”

4. Prepare an elevator speech.

People are constantly on the move during the conference and you might not have the time you wish you had to give a lengthy introduction. Practice your elevator speech which should highlight the most important things about you but also try to add some interesting fact so you stand out. Try not to be a salesman in your introduction though and definitely do not sound like a robot that memorized what to say!

5. Embrace the waiting time.

No one likes to wait in line but Lisa Gschwandtner says that waiting in lines is a great time to network and you will have opportunities for this throughout the entire conferences, so take advantage of it!

“Usually the first thing you do when you get to an event is stand in line to pick up your registration badge. Is there a line? Great. Turn to the person behind you and ask where he’s from and what he hopes to learn today.”

Learn to make the most of every minute that you’re at a conference. Networking while in lines will set you apart from the amateurs (the amateurs are probably anxiously tapping their foot on the ground while checking their cellphone).

6. Smile. Be friendly.

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” Okay, we admit we tried to find the cheesiest quote possible but it doesn’t mean it’s not true! It has been proven that people make snap judgments within seconds of meeting you. According to research from Princeton University, your facial expressions can influence those judgments. If you smile, you are automatically viewed as more trustworthy and you will seem more approachable. This one small thing can make a big difference.

7. Be active on social media.

It is likely that you are not going to be able to meet every single person at a conference but one way to connect with additional people can be through the use of social media. Usually, there is a hashtag that is being used at these conferences, for example, “#BestConferenceEver.” Search for other people using the hashtag and connect with them or tweet at them.  Take a selfie and post it on Facebook, tweet something personal, or keep it professional and use LinkedIn. Whichever you prefer, find a way so that you can stay in touch with them!

8. Offer value first.

Make networking more than a way to find what you want. What you should do is find ways that you can bring value to other people by helping them in some way or offering advice. Darrah Brustein says that “Sometimes the best opportunities come along because you helped them and now they want to do the same for you.” But she also mentions that you shouldn’t help people just because you expect something in return and that you should also offer twice as much value as you want.

9. Connect people.

Being a connector is one of the most powerful things you can do in the networking realm. Being useful is something that people always appreciate. If someone needs a specific service or they have an issue that someone else might be able to solve, introduce them to the person you know that can bring benefit to them. Even if there isn’t a need, you can try to connect people that might get along or are in a similar field.

10. Stay at the venue’s hotel.

Although you might be able to save money by staying in another hotel rather than at the venue, you might be missing out on additional networking time. If you are staying at the venue’s hotel, go out and explore. Wake up early, have breakfast and sit with other people that are there. Use the gym, go to the pool, check out their shops. The more you are out and about, the more people you are likely to meet.

11. Attend social events.

It is likely that the conference will have additional social events for you to mingle. Don’t pass up the free entertainment and the additional time you get to network. Usually at these events, people are more relaxed and you might get to know them on a more personal level. Try not to talk about work all night and instead focus on building friendships. It’s okay to let loose but know your boundaries. If they are serving alcohol, try to keep it to a minimum. You don’t want the next day or your next encounter with those people to be awkward!

12. Follow-up.

After the conference, contact the people that you really seemed to get along with first! Tell them how great it was to meet them and if they’re in the same city, maybe even try to meet up.  Keep in touch with them as more time passes. Treat these new networks like friends and not just as leads. Sean Kim says “In a world of take take take, being able to show that you care about someone as a friend will put you in a whole different category with any of your connections.”


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