Finding ways to make real connections and network authentically is an artform that takes practice, forethought and a bit of creativity. Here are a few tips on how to make the most out of your next conference and walk away with more than a pocket full of business cards.
1. Know what your objective is. Are you attending the conference to find new community partners? Are you interested in learning about new policy shifts or industry best practices? Are you looking for allies? Are you looking to make a job shift and putting out feelers? Knowing what you want to get out of the conference will help you prioritize your schedule and frame your conversations.
2. Attend as many events as you can. Immerse yourself in the culture of the event. Talk to people at dinner that you saw at the interesting panel earlier in the day. Recap, review and relate.
3. Think about what you have to give and not just what you want to get. Make a list of what experiences and skills you have to share with your fellow colleagues.
4. Small talk isn’t easy, especially in fish bowl scenarios like industry conferences. It’s okay to talk about non-industry related topics. Especially when you are at mingling-oriented events, feel free to talk about your hobbies and ask questions about theirs. Finding common interests will make your more memorable.
5. Volunteer and become more visible. Man the registration table, offer to distribute materials, host a cocktail hour. By stepping up, you make yourself more visible and more approachable.
6. Do your homework. If you are looking to impress someone at the conference, research what it is about them that impresses you. Comment on their most recent article, initiative or even Twitter post. Engage them with sincere flattery that will establish your connection.
7. Follow up. Don’t just hand over your business card and walk away. Follow new contacts on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and email them a week after the conference with a follow up to your conversation. Remind them of what you talked about, link them to the article you mentioned and make a firm suggestion on how your work together.