I’ve learned something surprising about myself over the years. I am not an extrovert. Now, I’m Social Su in a lot of situations, and I’m excited to get together with friends, but after being with a large number of people (especially if they’re strangers), I am drained. That’s basically the definition of being an introvert.
I used to attend a lot more business conferences than I do now, but for that very reason of getting tired from them, I’ve pulled back. So when I do attend one (like I did recently), I make sure to pack a punch with my efforts. Here, steal my tips on how to network at a conference.
#1. Know Why You’re Going
Set a goal before you even make it to the event. What are you hoping to achieve? Maybe you want to find some potential customers or people you can partner with. Maybe you want to learn from the sessions at the conference. Whatever those goals, keep them in mind throughout. This will help you make the right decisions at the event so you can come back happy to have accomplished what you set out to do.
#2. Have Your Spiel Ready
There’s a reason we content marketers harp on the subject of the elevator speech in networking. It’s uber important for quickly letting people know what you do and letting them decide whether they’re interested in learning more. If you’re headed to an industry event, you won’t be the only person who does what you do, so find your unique angle. Maybe you serve a particular niche with your company? Or have an unusual approach to what you do? Find a way to separate yourself from the pack with your short introduction.
And if you’ve been rehearsing the same tired elevator speech for years, I challenge you to update it. Pick it apart and find a new and innovative way to tell people what you do.
#3. Get Off the Wall
At the conference I attended recently, I started the day out grumpy, thanks to a bad night’s sleep at the hotel. The last thing I wanted to do was paste on my cheesy smile and get to networking. But then a grumbling text to my husband got the response: “You came all that way not to talk to people? Come on!”
I got my butt in motion, smiled at the nearest person, and dove right in. Of course it was fine after that. It’s always the first one that’s the hardest. But realize you’re hardly the only person who showed up alone, and others are just as nervous about putting themselves out there as you are.
#4. Never Eat Alone
This is a fantastic opportunity to get to know more people. Yes, you can feel like the new kid in school when you carry your tray around the lunch room, but, again, it’s a room full of people who came alone and just happened to sit down at a table before you did. Scope out a table with an empty chair, ask if it’s available, and introduce yourself. (Bonus tip: don’t eat anything that’s hard to talk around, like a sandwich or spaghetti. You want to be able to take a small bite and then talk, and you don’t want to slurp your sauce at your new friends!)
#5. Leverage Social Media
I’ve found this to be a fabulous way to connect with people before an event. If there is a hashtag that conference attendees are encouraged to use, search it on Twitter and follow the people using it. Use it yourself before the event to attract followers, and throughout the event. I picked up a large number of Instagram followers simply by tagging the event in all my photos.
Beyond the event, stay in touch with those people through social media. Share their content and comment on it. And if you go to the event again next year, be sure to check in with the people you’ve networked with through social media to see if they’re going again.
#6. Take Breaks
Here’s a great tip for introverts. Stay in a hotel near where your conference is located so you can easily slip away for even an hour to recharge your mental battery. These conferences fill up the entire day with sessions and cocktail mixers, so it can take some effort to leave for a bit, but make it priority. If, for example, there’s a session you don’t particularly care to attend, use that time to come back, rest, and check your email. This is especially essential if you plan for a long night of networking and drinks!
#7. Remember Names
Okay, this is certainly a challenge, given the number of people you’ll meet, but it’ll help forge relationships down the road. Whenever you meet someone, keep repeating that person’s name in your head, along with some other connection (“Rebecca runs Radcliffe Marketing.” “Todd’s from Ontario.”). Say their name aloud when walking away from the conversation so it will cement in your head.
But don’t try to remember what they’re wearing as a way to keep them in your head! People change clothes for evening events, or even from one day to another, so if you remembered that Chantal was wearing that fantastic red dress, you won’t recognize her tomorrow in a pantsuit!
#8. Look for Unexpected Networking Opportunities
At a networking party at the conference I attended, I overheard two people talking about writing opportunities as I washed my hands in the bathroom. I jumped into the conversation, and left with a potential client’s card. You never know where networking can come about!
#9. Meet the Speakers
Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to a speaker at the conference after they present their content. They’re sort of conference ambassadors, and are always ready to meet new people. That’s why they speak! If there’s a line to meet a given speaker, try reaching out later if you see her in the hall, or even arrange via social media to meet later one-on-one.
#10. Follow Up Afterward
Stay in touch with anyone you connected with. Send an email within a day or two of the conference, and if you promised anything, like sending a sample of your work, make sure you follow through. It’s the weeks and months after the event that will make your networking pay off.
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