Conference Networking: How to Make it Effective

Arrangements have been made and it’s official: you’re going to an industry summit. Now you need to  figure out how to be effective and get the most out of your conference. Don’t forget, you have the chance to meet new people who may become partners or mentors and the possibilities are endless, with promising prospects. The only problem is .. well .. you don’t actually like networking.

This is totally a natural state for an introvert. Totally. Natural. Meeting complete strangers and trying to make connections with them can be terrifying. For an introvert, you can practically watch your social battery drain, even prior to departing to attend the event. In the case of networking events, it’s even harder because your time is so very limited. You can’t really send someone else in your place, and giving up your spot isn’t ideal either. It’s time to take a closer look and make a choice.

What’s so great about industry events? A lot!

  • You can develop new connections to be utilized later.
  • You can discover new partnerships to pursue.
  • You can share your ideas and boost your own authority.
  • You can strengthen existing relationships even further.
  • You can learn new things from experienced people within your industry.

It’s obvious that summits and conferences are a great opportunity to grow your career, but they are often confusing and intimidating. Anxiety from the whole experience can cripple someone’s ability to maximize their impact during the event.

Most people that attend industry events simply do not take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them. This leaves many people feeling awkward and like they have accomplished nothing at all.

Catch Up: Networking Checklist

Make Your Next Industry Event Matter

You don’t need to be the person who swoops into the summit in a whirlwind of chatter and endless small talk. Just because they’re walking out the door with lots of leads doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to be successful at these events. If you want to get similar results you need to work on your planning. This will help you to feel confident before you even arrive.

Be sure you do these five things before heading off to your event.

1. Map Out Your Game Plan

An industry event, like a summit or conference, is an investment. You’ve paid money for the opportunity to gain something more, but you need to decide what you class as a positive return on investment. What are the outcomes that you want and who are the people you really want to meet?

You never know when the opportunity may pop up and suddenly you have the chance to talk to someone that you really want to connect with. If you haven’t planned ahead though, you might just end up stuttering through and not asking the questions you’re really interested in.

Let’s get prepared and make a chart. You can do this on a spreadsheet, Evernote or just note it on some paper .. whatever you’re more comfortable with.

First, figure out who’s going to be attending. Check out the list of speakers, and look for any confirmed attendees lists. Decide who on those lists you would like to meet or talk to. Write these down on the left hand side of your page, or in the first column of your spreadsheet.

Second, for each one of these people, write out the following information:

  • If they’re speakers, when they are scheduled to speak.
  • Why you actually want to speak/connect with them.
  • What benefit they can get out of speaking to you, what value you can give them.
  • Three talking points for each individual.

Third, research every person on that list. Learn everything you can about them, including any affiliations they may have, hobbies, passions, current endeavors or challenges, and any mutual connections you may already have. You can find mutual connections by checking LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Google.

Now, take this list with you to the event and keep it near at all times. Take moments alone to add notes with next steps and follow-ups, or mark out “no shows.” By the time the event is over, you will have a pretty good idea of how you did.

2. Try to Book Meetings

Making connections doesn’t need to be left to chance. Before you head off to the event, try and contact the people on your “hit list” and see if you can plan a meeting with them. If even one can agree to a meeting then you’re already ahead.

3. Get Your Contacts Involved

If you already know people that are going to be attending the summit or conference as well then there’s nothing wrong with joining forces. Try to plan certain times where you can roam the event together and meet their contacts. Try to plan off-site meetings or meals with others, as this can also reduce the amount of competition around you and make the mood less anxious.

4. Avoid the Lines for Speakers

If you can, try and engage with the speakers before they give their presentations, as things can be rushed and hectic afterwards. Speaking to them beforehand means you will get more quiet time with them. If you see them afterwards, you also have the chance to comment on their presentation and keep the interaction going for longer.

5. Show How Useful You Are

This may sound silly, but it’s all about perceived value. Summits and conferences are not easy to organize, and things can sometimes start to go wrong just days before one. Contact the organizers and see if they need any help. Volunteers often get VIP access or free passes to sub-events or dinners. Helping at a conference also helps you to get noticed and stand out. By working with a group of people, you become associated with them.

If you prepare yourself, you will immediately feel more confident when you arrive at an industry event. Your experience will be more than just watching presentations and making idle chit chat with someone that you didn’t even get a business card from. With a list in hand, you will be ready to network and be focused on who to really engage with.

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