7 guidelines to cutting through the maze at conferences and maximizing your networking

Oct 28, 2015 by Brendan Jack

Networking is fundamental. It has been said that the opposite of networking is not-working. We all need to build our networks, and conferences are a concentrated hub of activity. But it can be quite challenging when trying to navigate through a sea of people, with many of them being in high demand. Pinning someone down to chat is never easy at a conference, so stealth mode (sounds cool, admit it) may be required. If you only have polite and friendly mode, that will do too. Just make sure you have the basics covered.

Be prepared

Dress for success. Wear a jacket. Pockets are good – they can hold your business cards. Make sure you have lots of them. Make sure your phone is charged to avoid worrying about finding a power outlet and wasting valuable networking time.

Don’t sit in the corner reading emails. Now is your chance to collect more numbers. This way you can spend more time in other corners checking messages from the new people you just met.

Know your game. If you can’t explain what you do and how you do it in 30 seconds, then they won’t want to hear more from you.

A wingman never hurt. Approaching a key person in a pincer manoeuvre may be a good tactic. Just don’t make them call security.

Often conferences have a registration desk with nametags waiting to be collected. A quick scan of whose registered often gives you good insights.

Business cards

Work the room. Mingle and move about. Scanning people’s nametags is par for the course. Get sleep the night before, be on your game. Have those business cards ready. Not so much for handing out cards but rather for getting their cards. It’s like connecting on social media, but in real life. Handing over a business card is an invitation to swap details. The best way to receive is to give, so give away lots of cards.

Small is big

Conferences are about small talk. Most don’t have time for long conversations. There are talks to attend, products to explore and people to meet. Long heart-to-hearts are not on the agenda. The weather, traffic and parking is often a subject of conversation, why not? Use small talk to start big conversations.

Food lines and busy coffee stations are key meeting points. It’s like a watering hole for wildlife, hopefully without the threat of a lion attack. People standing in line are game for some quick chitchat. Helping with a laptop bag or offering to pour a cuppa is a good way to engage. Stealth mode may now be out in the open, but maintain cool mode. Focus on who you’re speaking to, don’t constantly eye-roam the room looking for a potentially bigger fish.

Step out of your comfort zone

Don’t huddle in the corner with a group of mates talking about the weekend. You’re there to (net)work. Talk to strangers, swap cards, use what’s on hand to make an impression and work the room.

Don’t sit on your ass in the corner checking your phone. Why even bring an ass to a conference? No pets allowed.

As Nike says, Just Do It. It might take time to get good at it. But keep practicing.

Pretend like you went to school with the person with whom you’re engaging. Listen to what they have to say and avoid bombarding them with ‘me’ talk.

Early birds

Get there early. Settle in and get a feel for what is happening. Hone in on key people you want to meet. Catch some worms. The early birds at conferences are always the easiest to chat to. Get a vibe going and make some friends. You never know who will be lurking around in the small hours.

Early arrival also assures good parking. This doesn’t help you network much, but it does mean a quick getaway after a successful day.

Know some stuff

Do homework. Learn about the keynote speakers and the line-ups. The exciting sounding talks obviously draw the biggest crowds. Sitting next to someone in the auditorium also allows for moments of conversation before and after the talk. Don’t keep yakking or making clever comments to attendees throughout other people’s talks.

If your company is sponsoring the conference, use it to your advantage. Perhaps your company has a booth. Invite people over. Make them feel like a VIP, even if it only means free pastries and a branded flash drive.

Break some ice

Wherever there are groups of people, there’s opportunity to capture imaginations. It’s a bit more challenging at conferences due to limited time and numbers.
Consider trying a few icebreakers to get people’s attention.

Make sure your pockets are well stocked, and be ready to think on your feet. Give the Mobile Flight Mood a go or discuss your Hidden Agenda. If you feel perky (and they deserve it) show people Some Respect.

Summing up

It takes a lot of time and effort to meet people in your industry, so a conference is a key opportunity. Network your ass off, gather contact information. Try to make an impression – not easy with all that hustle and bustle - but it always helps to have a few aces up your sleeve.

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