Have you ever roamed around an IEEE or another conference feeling aimless and shy to start a conversation with the participants? Conferences are all about networking, so failing to start conversations with attendees can cost you invaluable opportunities.
Here are my twelve tips for improving your networking experience at your next conference:
Before the conference:
Practice your elevator pitch
Time is important, so prepare your elevator pitch to introduce yourself quickly and effectively. Your elevator pitch should answer ‘who you are’, ‘what you do and ‘why you are attending the conference’ in about 30 seconds, but not exceeding 90 seconds. This will help you make an impression and establish a good ground for productive conversation.
Get your business cards ready
Even though in today’s digital age most business cards end up in the trash bin, they still serve as an important source of information: your contact details. The people you meet are likely to use your business card to look you up on LinkedIn and store your email and phone number for future use.
Update your online profiles
As I mentioned earlier, the people you meet are likely to link up on social media (LinkedIn especially) as soon as you exchange business cards or right then and there during conversations. So, make sure that your social media profiles are up to date in terms of profile photo and professional info.
Research on speakers/ panelists/ attendees and prepare a list of people to connect with
Almost all conferences publish their speaker profiles before the conference. Use the list of speakers to learn more about their background and work. If you can obtain a list of attendees, try to find out more about them as well. Your background research will help you ease into conversation and ask important questions. Prepare a list of people you want to network with. You can follow them on Twitter or connect with them on LinkedIn before the event.
However, even though a networking list can help you stay focused, do not miss out on networking opportunities with other participants as well. You never know who you may meet.
Pro tip: Remember to send personalized messages to your networking list if you are connecting with them on LinkedIn including that you are interested to meet them at the conference to talk about X, Y, Z.
Reserve the conference venue hotel or the hotel suggested by the conference organizers
Networking doesn’t only happen at the conference venue. In fact, some of the most effective networking happens at the hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants.
To increase your chances of quality networking, try to stay at the hotel the conference organizers recommend as the speakers and other important attendees are likely to stay there as well.
Update your online profiles
Your conversation partners might get connected with you on social media, specially on LinkedIn, right then and there. So, make sure that your online presence is up-to-date which might help you succeed at networking.
During the conference:
Show up early
This can give you ample room to start conversations with solo attendees. Also, you could introduce yourself to conference organizers, volunteers, and sponsors.
Ask open-ended, easy and meaningful questions
Always use open-ended questions to keep the conversation going.
There are many simple questions you can use: What have been your favourite sessions so far? What are you hoping to get out of this conference? Will you be attending conference X this year? Did you attend conference X? Have you attended this conference before? What are your research interests?
An important point to remember in networking is never to ask for a job! Instead, try these: show them your resume and ask for advice to improve, show your passion and knowledge about their company/ work, or ask for advice about a job search.
Smile: Be approachable
The worst thing you can do at a conference is burying your face in your phone.
Even if you feel that you – for whatever reason – cannot start a conversation with anyone, circulate around the venue, observe the participants and wear a smile that says, “I am happy to talk with you”.
Make sure you give a firm, but not a bone-crushing handshake and keep eye contact throughout the conversation.
Pro tip: Stay hydrated.
It is important that you are not the one doing all the talking. Let others talk and share their stories too. Try to learn as much as possible about their work, interests and bottlenecks, so you can find ways to offer them answers of real value.
Always pay close attention to your conversation partner, even if you are not interested in what they are saying. Otherwise, your conversation will become uncomfortable and you will come across as unprofessional.
After the conference:
Networking is not just about collecting business cards or connecting on LinkedIn and forgetting all about it.
Follow up with them via social media or by emailing within 48 hours after the conference, so that people you meet remember you and know that you are interested in staying connected.
Pro tip 1: During the conversation, ask them how they like to get connected: email, phone or social networks.
Pro tip 2: Take notes about them on their business cards so you can refer to them later. Find a reason to follow up during the conversation.
Article contributed by Dinuka Tharangi Jayaweera