Networking for Success: Conference & Event Networking For the Win

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Networking for SuccessAs professionals, most of us know that networking is important. But, most of us are not taking full advantage of prime networking opportunities that we come across. Today, we’re going to talk about one of the best networking opportunities a professional could ask for—conference networking.

Conferences are amazing networking opportunities for a multitude of reasons. You’re surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of folks that are professionally like-minded. And, the plethora of events, happy hours, outings, parties, lunches and dinners that conference organizers usually hold throughout the duration of conferences are organized specifically for networking.

In preparation for some huge conferences that are on the horizon (shout-out: LAUNCH Festival, SXSW, TNW, and more.) we’ve highlighted some key networking pointers to keep in mind and apply in real-life.

First, let’s talk about conference attendees, since it’s key to understand who you’re interacting with.

Conference Attendees:

  • Are tired (and/or jet-lagged and/or hungover) – Between travelling (sometimes from across the country or even overseas), attending all day conference sessions, heading to happy hours and events, all the while trying to “work,” it’s safe to assume that most conference attendees are absolutely exhausted. It’s important to remember this when speaking with fellow attendees because their exhaustion level will have an effect on their attention span. Thus, keep your conversations brief, to the point, and recognize any cues that they’re ready to wrap things up.
  • Have ADD—Attendees have a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. Due to packed schedules and a bit of exhaustion, most folks have a mild form of ADD during events. There’s always another event to head to, another person to network with, another booth to collect swag from, and another opportunity right around the corner. Don’t make your conversation long-winded, keep it short and sweet, ask them questions instead of making the conversation one-sided, don’t seem desperate, and even offer to walk and talk (perhaps to the next session or happy hour).
  • Are looking for opportunities that benefit them—Although it may not come as a surprise, it’s important to remember that attendees are primarily looking for contacts that will be beneficial to themselves. Remember this, and tweak your “pitch” accordingly, hopefully working in any kind of information that will let them know how working together/connecting can be mutually beneficial. In other words, don’t task your new connection with an introduction, or ask. You don’t want to start the relationship off in the red.
  • Will forget your name—It’s safe to assume that the attendee will most likely forget your name. He/she will be bombarded with conversation and business cards all week long, and be meeting dozens of folks. Keep that in mind, and try and make yourself memorable and not blend in with the crowd. Always remember to get his/her information as well as exchange your own. This will prove helpful post-conference.

Keep In Mind:

  • You should always be “on”—During conferences, it’s important to remember that you’re always networking. That attendee sitting next to you in a session who you lend an iPhone charger to may be a potential new client. That person in waiting in line at the bar with you may be a potential new investor. You never know who’s around the corner. Thus, no matter how tired you may be, it’s important to always put on a smile and be ready to network.
  • Speed is KEY—As mentioned earlier, attendees are tired and highly-pressed for time. And, you should be too. The more people you talk to, the more potential quality connections you build. So, keep your conversations brief and keep it moving!

Prepare:

  • Perfect Your Elevator Pitch—Have your 5 minute “pitch” down pat.

o   If you’re a company or startup, highlight your mission statement and goals, what problem your company is solving and why it’s different, where you’re at in your journey, and highlight what you need most right now.

o   If you’re looking for new employment or consulting opportunities, be prepared with an extremely condensed version of your resume and past work experience.

  • Bring Plenty of Business Cards—Although it may seem like a no-brainer, many times attendees don’t bring enough business cards with them. Another important thing to remember is to ensure your cards are accurate and up-to-date with your contact information, title, etc.
  • Prepare a set of Ice Breakers—If conversation isn’t your strongest suit, have a few conversation starters ready. Remember, it’s not just about you—don’t bore your peer by just rambling on about yourself. A few questions you can include: Where they’re from; What company they’re at; How long they’ve been in the industry; If they’re going to any of the after-hours/networking events; If they’ve ever been to that particular conference; What sessions they’ve liked the best so far.
  • Dress for the Occasion—But, not in the manner you may be thinking of. At most conferences-especially in the tech industry–it’s over-the-top to wear a suit and tie or a pencil skirt and heels, and can actually be off-putting to your peers that you are networking with. Dress casually and comfortably, but remain pulled-together and stylish. If you have your own company or startup, consider wearing t-shirts with your company name and logo. Also, pack layers—conference venues are usually cold. For after-hours events, dress up your look to be polished and ready for what the night may lead to.

Events:

  • Take Advantage of Conference-Organized Events­—Many times, conference organizers throw several networking events throughout the course of the conference—from happy hours to outings to lunches to all-out parties. Take advantage of these open events and make sure you RSVP ahead of time if necessary. Although you may be tired, these events are very important to attend if you are serious about networking.
  • Ask Attendees for the Inside Scoop—Get chummy with attendees and get the scoop on any good private events and/or impromptu happenings, and try and tag along/attend. You never know who you’ll meet!
  • Google It and Get Social—Sometimes, finding out about non-publicized events can be as easy searching. Perform a search for “2015 {conference name} parties” (or networking events, meetups, happy hours, etc.) and see what you find. Be sure to monitor the conference hashtag. Sponsors may announce special giveaways and events that were once private, not public. Stay in-the-know always!

Check back next week – we’ll be serving up post-event suggestions!