If you consider yourself to be a little bit shy, the idea of attending and networking at a conference can be enough to make you start sweating profusely.
What do you talk about?
Where and how should you approach people?
How do you stay connected?
What can I say that won't sound completely awkward?
These questions run rampant through your head in the weeks, days and hours before that dreaded conference. So, to eliminate some of the stress, here are some tips to help you successfully network at your next conference or tradeshow.
- Utilize social media ahead of time. Get to know conference attendees virtually first. Many events will have a Twitter hashtag or Facebook fan page that is active or trending that you can use to start socializing with attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers before the conference even starts. Find out if there are going to be special events going on and if people you know will be attending.
- Leave your hotel room or expo booth. Once you’re at the conference, don’t just sit at an empty table or in your hotel room and catch up on emails – you can do that when you get back to the office! We recommend finding some conference sessions that interest you. These sessions are a great place to meet people with similar interests, which means you may have an easier time finding something to talk to people about.
- Here's my card. No matter where you are at the conference, make sure to hand out your business card and ask people for theirs. You can jot a note on the back to remind yourself of what you talked about and whether or not you need to follow up with them at a certain time.
- Chat with exhibitors. It may be tempting to walk around the expo with your head down, without talking to anyone, grabbing various pieces of literature as you go to take back to the office. You may not want to hear the sales pitches, but we still suggest talking to the exhibitors and asking questions about the product or service they provide. Who knows, they could wind up being your next customer, partner or service provider.
- Make new friends. Flashback to elementary school when you sat at the lunch table with all the kids you didn't know. As nerve-wracking as it was, it was the perfect way to make new friends. In order to meet new people, you have to approach new people. Find a table filled with people you don’t know during lunch and find out who they are, which organization they work for and what they do!
- Attend special events. Those pre-conference parties, concerts and Friday night cocktail events are not an excuse for you to head back to your hotel early and order room service! These parties are often a great place to casually network, while also enjoying food, music and drinks.
- Reconnect after the conference. The networking doesn't stop once you return to the office. Lucky for us, the power of social media gives provides an opportunity to stay in touch with new connections. Use LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to follow the people you met or their companies. You may find yourselves at a conference together in the future!
We hope that these tips will help to put your mind at ease the next time you find yourself at a networking event, and we hope to see you at upcoming conferences!