Those who know me well, are quite aware of the fact that I am a conference rat. I love conferences and, most of the time, they are an “excuse” for traveling somewhere and visiting some place new. So much so that whenever I travel my mom asks if I am going to attend any conferences. Well, sometimes I do travel to visit friends, you know?
After attending so many conferences, you end up naturally mastering this networking thing. However, I know how difficult it can be the first or second time we attend one. We feel lost, most of the times we do not know absolutely anybody, we are shy, and we want to dig a hole on the ground to hide and simply disappear from this frightening place. See? It is normal, it happens with anybody. I never feel comfortable whenever I go to a new place either, like a new gym, for example. But I will not stop exercising just because of that, am I? Well, I know this may be more than an excuse for some people though…
Keeping this conference newbie tiny issue in mind and the fact that the Abrates Conference is just around the corner, I decided to share with you some tips for successfully networking at conferences without simply throwing yourself at the people either.
- First of all, having and carrying your business cards with you at all times is a must. And this is valid for any occasions. Have a bunch of business cards in your wallet, purse, gym bag, car. Whenever someone asks for your email or phone number, just handle them your card and make a good impression with your professionalism. 😉
- However, do NOT just randomly start giving your cards away to simply anybody with no reason whatsoever. Wait for the right time. Timing is everything when you want to make a good impression.
- In order to find the right time, first, you need to be open. When we feel shy, we tend to bury our heads in our notepads, mobiles, or even in the coffee break food. (Who never?) Look up, not down, and keep a smile on your face at all times. Do not be afraid of saying hi to people even when you do not know them, especially those who are sitting right next to you during the numerous talks. This openness is key to finding the right time to “strike,” besides making it easier for people to approach you.
- Approaching other attendees is not necessarily the worse thing ever. Small talk is there to rescue us! Comment about the icing cold air conditioning, the horrible Wi-Fi connection, the nice venue, the amazing lunch you just had, that coffee you terribly need, you name it, with the person who is sitting next to you. After breaking the ice, show interest and ask the person their name, what they do, where they are from, etc. And take the chance to ask for the person’s business card, so you can keep in touch. Naturally, they will also ask for yours. There you go. It does not hurt, does it? And you cause a way better impression when you show you are interested in knowing about the person than if you make it about yourself from the beginning. This approach can also be used during coffee breaks: comment about the amazing food, the interesting talk you just attended, how sleepy and in need of coffee you are… And repeat the same next steps: show interest to know who the person is and ask for their card.
- Another way of approaching other attendees is when you “know” them somehow: you always see them commenting/posting on Facebook groups, you like their blog/what they do, you are Facebook “friends,” you name it. These are great ice-breakers.
- Do not leave a conference without talking to presenters you like or whose presentations you enjoyed! There is no better ice-breaker than approaching the person to say you watched their presentation and loved it. Ask for their card so you can follow them on social media, and there you go. Or, if given the chance, you can even approach them before their talk (even if you are not really planning on attending it), saying you saw they are presenting, you are interested at the topic but unfortunately will not be able to attend it, so maybe they could give you their card so you can keep in touch? 😉
In a nutshell, the key is to be friendly and open at all times, and take every chance to start a small talk and take it to the next level by showing interest at the person. Only make it about you if the person opens the floor for you to do so.
If you engage with as little as one person per period (morning and afternoon), you end up with four contacts to follow up at a two-day conference. If you adequately follow up with them after the conference, these four people may introduce you to other people throughout the year and at the next conference as well. It is a vicious circle that only gets bigger with time, and one that works for itself, with no need to make such a great efforts anymore.
Now, last but not least, it is also important to know how to properly follow up.
- Write an individual and personalized email to people you really liked meeting showing your appreciation.
- Do NOT simply add people on social media without sending them a private message reminding them exactly where and how you met, or where you know them from. Actually, this should be always applied, like a best networking practice. It is hard to remember every single person we meet at conferences, and anywhere for that matter.
- Now, I know this is hard to ask nowadays, but I actually prefer to follow their blog, like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, etc., instead of adding them as friends on Facebook or LinkedIn, especially those I did not really have a chance to connect that much.
Those who are at the the ITI and NAJIT conferences can already start applying these tips. If you do, let us know if it worked. And for those who are attending the Abrates Conference next week, like myself, you can start practicing in the shower. 😉