Attending a conference on your own or being selected as the delegate to attend on behalf of your company or team has the potential to be simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating. Networking possibilities beyond your wildest dreams materialize right at your fingertips, but the connections, skills and strategies necessary to realize the potential those possibilities often afford, feel a bit more elusive. In the long-term, you can work on cultivating additional connections and honing your social skills on your own, but in the short-term, a few easily implemented strategies will provide you with some immediately tangible results at the next conference or event you attend.
First things first- get connected on Social Media. Many conferences have Facebook pages or events, dedicated apps, people mentioning it on LinkedIn, and Twitter hashtags to help attendees connect with one another. If you start to engage with fellow participants via social media before the events of the conference get underway, you will have the bonus of arriving at the conference with a brand new set of familiar faces and a longer list of contacts with whom to connect. Once you’ve arrived, you can use LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to complement and extend the conversations that begin at the conference. Those of you who are unable to attend but still want to get involved can even use Social Media to participate in the conversation from the comfort of your home (or office).
At the conference be sure to manage your time and prioritize your focus. When it comes down to it, some people are simply more important than others within each industry. By isolating key influential individuals to engage and socialize with, you can expand your network much more efficiently and much more rapidly than if you were to speak to the person sitting next to you at every talk (not to say you shouldn’t be doing that as well). Arrive at the conference with a short list of 5-10 important figures in your industry who are attending the conference and make it a goal to reach out to them via Email or Social Media or, even better, talk to them in person, while you’re there.
You’re also going to want to network in situations where you’re comfortable. Extend your social calendar before and after the meetings or talks you plan on attending. Breakfast arranged for conference members? Be there. Some of your contacts planning a collective lunch or coffee break? Be there. Find out about a mixer at a local bar after the last talk of the day? Be there too. You’ll be at your best when you’re relaxed, comfortable and confident in your surroundings, not packed into a cramped, stuffy board room full of people you barely know. If you find networking with strangers to be particularly difficult, or just a little tedious, leveraging extra-conference activities will be extremely important for a successful experience.
Most importantly, though, stay in touch with the contacts you make at the conference. Don’t just add their business cards to the pile or their numbers to an already-crowded contacts list, take some time in the day or days that follow the conference to reach out to everyone you met over the course of the weekend. Even something small like sharing an article you found that you thought they’d enjoy or sending a quick message to let them know you enjoyed meeting them keeps the dialogue going. Unless you’ve somehow miraculously returned with a stack of all-local business cards, it’ll likely be weeks at the very least if not months or years before you see most of these people face to face again. Unless you make a concerted effort to stay in contact and keep the meeting and yourself fresh in their minds, you can quickly fade into the background.
Go into your next conference with clear goals in mind and a well-developed plan of attack that leverages the principles and strategies detailed here and you’ll be well on your way to tangible, deliverable networking success.