A great way to do a lot of networking in a short amount of time is to attend conferences. So many thoughts come to mind when you think of conferences. Something you are forced to attend by your employer for continuing education filled with dry, boring speakers. Maybe you think of it as an excuse to get out of the office and get some free travel in the process. An event that you can socialize with people outside of your company. Maybe you are an introvert and the thought of having to make small talk with complete strangers freaks you out!
However, conferences are much more than those typical responses. They allow you face-to-face interaction with colleagues in your field – a much richer interaction than social media or online forums can provide. Conferences allow you to get to know others on a more personal level and strengthen those relationships that are vital to the growth of your business or career path. Moreover, these gatherings allow for a richer learning environment and can expose you to new ideas, concepts, and products that you may not have thought existed.
So how can you make the most out of conferences, so you can see the greatest return not only financially in your career path but also personal growth and strengthening of personal relationships? I have listed my top five ways tips that I use for all conferences I attend.
- List out your goals for the conference. In order to use your time wisely at a conference, you need to understand what your why for attending. Are you there to build more contacts in your industry? Are you interested in learning about certain subject matters to enhance your understanding on a particular topic? Are you looking for a particular vendor that can help fill a need in your company? Mapping out your goals is a great way to make sure you stay focused on your reasons for attending the conference and getting the most out of the experience.
- Connect with attendees ahead of time. Many conferences with create Facebook groups or provide an attendee list to participants. Reach out to attendees that you would like to meet up with at the event – maybe for coffee or during one of the lunch breaks. Contacting attendees before the event may make it less awkward to begin approaching people once you arrive because you will have already made connections before the event. There was one conference I attended that provided a list of all the attendees and their Twitter handle. I followed each and every one of those listed – over five hundred people! My work resulted in several interview requests as well as a podcast interview, not to mention that people knew who I was before I attended the conference.
- It’s all about the quality, not the quantity. At most conferences, you are trying to meet and talk with as many people as possible. However, it’s worth noting that the quality of the interactions you are having far exceed the high number of people you speak to. Taking the time to have deeper conversations with fewer people will build longer lasting relationships than collecting a huge stack of business cards and having no clue who you spoke to and what you spoke about. If you find someone that you are connecting with, spend more time with that person rather than moving on to the next conversation. People will remember who you are and be more likely to respond to you after the event.
- Attend the social events. I’m sure the introverts reading this post are freaking out about this tip. Honestly, some of the best interactions and relationship-building happens at the event parties. Why? Because the atmosphere is more relaxed and people tend to let their professional guard down, allowing you to get to know them better on a personal level. It makes people appear more human than they would be in an office setting. I am not suggesting that people get crazy and act inappropriate – we have all heard those stories. But socializing with attendees allows for easier communication and breaks down some of those protocol barriers that would allow for you to get to know others better.
- Follow up after the event. I can’t stress to you enough how important follow up is after the conference. After all, you didn’t collect all those business cards just to take up precious space in your luggage! This is often the step people forget to do after a conference and, unfortunately, it can cause you to lose relationships you built during the event. Give yourself a day to decompress and then begin writing follow-up emails. State how great it was to meet them, point out a few details from the conversation you had, and state an action item you would like to take – like further discussing a potential partnership or how you can work with them in the future.
Now that you have these tips, you are ready to rock out your next conference. Just remember to be genuine and authentic in your interactions and make the most of the opportunity to meet people from all over the country – or world – that can not only help you with your career but offer them the same assistance in return. Here’s to a productive conference!