Attending a conference can be a daunting experience for many, but if you are investing your time and money into attending an event you want to get the maximum benefit from it.  

With this in mind, here are some networking tips that I’ve accrued from my work on to help you make the best of your conference.

Before the event

Your event preparation should start well before the event, have a think about your reasons for attending and set some goals:

  • Understand the format of the event so you know what to expect and can prepare accordingly.
  • Who you would like to meet? An attendee list is very useful if one is available before the event. Do some research on any companies or individuals you would like to connect with. Consider contacting people before the event and introducing yourself with a view to meeting up at the event.
  • Make sure you know how to talk about what you do and what you are looking to achieve from the conference. It sounds obvious but many people struggle to describe their business in layman’s terms. At a busy event you may only get a short time to make an impression on someone so it pays to be clear and well prepared.
  • Always have plenty of professional looking business cards. It is worth spending a bit of money on good quality, well designed business cards. Remember to include your main contact details as well as your social networking profiles. A white background will enable your contacts to write notes about you on the card which is useful for following up after the event.

Many conferences hold Speed Networking sessions as part of their event. These are good fun and a great way to meet lots of other delegates and potential new contacts. Be sure to prepare a short ‘pitch’ about your business beforehand, you don’t have long so you want to get your message across as clearly and succinctly as possible.

At the event

So it’s the day of the conference and you are thrown into a room full of people you have never met before.  Don’t panic, this can be an enjoyable experience!

  • Relax and imagine you are having a conversation with friends.  Find out about the people you are talking to, ask interesting questions.
  • When talking about what you do, concentrate on the benefits. Always speak with confidence and enthusiasm about your products or services.
  • Don’t automatically hand out your business card to everyone you meet. Unwanted cards will likely end up in the bin.
  • Don’t interrupt conversations, this can come across as very rude and guaranteed to put peoples backs up.  It is very important to be aware of body language, look for the signals.
  • Talk to a variety of people. If you find yourself talking to the same person for a while then politely move on from the conversation and continue networking elsewhere. If you can’t find someone that you are keen to meet then ask the organisers if they can introduce you.
  • Save detailed discussions for later, arrange to meet with people for a more in-depth chat following the event.
  • Avoid getting drunk! An obvious one really, but if your nerves get the better of you at an event it is easy to have one too many.  If in doubt stick to soft drinks.

After the event

You’re back from the conference having met some great contacts but you fail to follow up with them. If you quickly disappear from a person’s mind then the opportunity has been lost. Don’t fall at the final hurdle; follow up is a vital part of networking.

Always drop new contacts an email after the event to say hi and it was good to meet you. Make your email personal rather than sending a generic message to everyone. Mention your conversation and how you would like to progress things further. Never add new contacts to your mailing list without their permission.

Connecting on LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch with people and let them know what you are up to following the conference.  

Finally, always remember to keep an open mind when you are networking. You never know who you might meet or who those people might know that could lead to opportunities at a later date.