5 Secrets for Effective Networking at Your Next Conference

Dec 17, 2014 - Joe Matar
Your boss just told you she wants you -- yes, you -- to attend an industry conference to meet with potential partners and source new prospects. You pump your fist as you leave her office. You’re the chosen one! Seconds later, you suddenly break into a cold sweat. You don’t have a clue what to do next and how you’ll be able to meet your supervisor’s expectations. She’s expecting you to make connections and bring back a stack of promising business cards. But networking terrifies you. Making small talk with strangers is not your idea of a good time. You’re starting to think twice about this conference. Can they just send someone else instead? Before you get cold feet and give up your conference spot, think about what this opportunity could mean for your career. Then, build your game plan so you can go and crush that conference!

Why you should attend industry conferences

Do you want to develop new connections that can help you land a great new job, a big client or a promising partnership? Do you see value in being the person to present fresh strategic ideas that can boost your company’s bottom line? These are just a few benefits of attending industry conferences: (Click here to tweet this list.)
  • Build key relationships that can help you now in your career… and when you’re looking for that next opportunity or dream job.
  • Develop strategic partnerships or make sales either directly with the people you meet or indirectly through their contacts.
  • Learn valuable info from industry contacts who face similar issues as you or your organization.
While conferences are an opportunity to take your career to the next level, they can intimidating and confusing. What are you supposed to do when you get there? This fear and uncertainty explains why most people fail to maximize their conference time and investment. Unfortunately, most conferences attendees don’t leverage the massive opportunities in front of them because they don’t know how to act (i.e. that annoying conference person.) They end up leaving the conference feeling like they could have done more.

How you can crush your next conference

But what about those people who make friends effortlessly and walk away from conferences with deals or partnerships in their palm of their hands? How can you be more like them? Here are five strategies that can give you a leg up on your fellow conference attendees. Put these tactics into action before you go so you can stand out and make a great impression.

1. Figure out who’s worth meeting

You paid money for this conference (or your company did). So figure out measurable outcomes and what will define success for you and your company. Set goals for who you’d like to meet. Then create an action plan so you’re prepared for even the most serendipitous of moments. You never know who you might run into while waiting in the bathroom line. In the first column of a spreadsheet, list of all the people you’d like to meet. Start with the speakers, but don’t stop there. Don’t forget about your fellow attendees. One the conference site, you may be able to find a list of confirmed attendees and where they work. Even if that list is hundreds of people deep, review it and see if anyone might be worth meeting. The next five columns on your spreadsheet should contain:
  • Why you want to meet them
  • Three bulleted speaking points for each person
  • What value you can deliver to them
  • When they speak (if applicable)
  • Your post-conference follow-up and next steps
Research each person and try to learn more about their passions, charities they’re involved in, industry challenges they may have, and people you have in common (use Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.) This information will be important in your initial conversation. Share the list with your manager to see if there is anyone he or she wants you to connect with. This way, you’re being a strategist for the company and not just for yourself. Then, carry this list with you at all times. Keep track of whom you’ve spoken with, and whom you haven’t. After the conference, report back on the true return-on-investment, not only from potential deals, but the new relationships you’ve created that can help your company.

2. Get your colleagues on board

Coordinate with colleagues who are also attending the conference and synchronize your lists. Plan times to walk around together and meet with people or tag team for dinners or lunches. Going off-site for meals can be great because there are fewer distractions and fewer opportunities for someone to potentially hijack the meeting.

3. Schedule meetings in advance

Before you go, contact those target attendees and speakers and try to coordinate meetings. This way you don’t leave anything to chance.

4. Hit up speakers before their presentation

Instead of waiting in the long lines after a speaker’s presentation, try to catch them before they go on stage. You’ll get more time with less effort, and you can wish them good luck. When you see them afterwards, you can compliment them on their presentation and mention one of the points they made to keep the conversation going.

5. Work the conference like a VIP

The best way to get VIP status at the conference? Contact the organizer and offer to help out. Putting together a well-run conference is no small feat. If you volunteer to help keep things running smoothly, you may get free passes to events and invites to VIP receptions. Plus, you immediately stand out as helpful. Remember, your success is proportionate to the value you provide other people. When you help others, you’re helping yourself.  Switch your mindset from “getting” to “giving.” By following these five tips, you’ll no longer be that person who walks into a conference with just a pocketful of business cards. You’ll be the networking machine with a strategic plan and the right mindset. You now have all the tools you need to leave that conference feeling empowered and successful instead of unsatisfied. Now get out there and start working the conference floor! Jason is a life mastery coach helping men and women to create the business, relationships, and life they love. His new book, Social Wealth, was a #1 bestseller on Amazon, and you can reach him at BeExtraordinary.tv