Business networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and nailing it at a busy conference can be even more difficult. However, it’s a challenge worth rising to.
According to a Forbes Insights study, 85 per cent of people believe they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during face-to-face business meetings and conferences.
Here’s what you can do to maximise your networking time at the next conference you attend.
Build your presence
Seize any opportunity you can to build your presence at the conference. Contact the conference organisers to enquire if you can speak on a panel, run a workshop or lead a breakout session. This will set you up as a person other attendees will want to approach.
If you’re unable to secure an official role at the conference, consider hosting a lunch at a nearby restaurant. Inviting people you meet at the conference to a meal will give you the opportunity to turn chance meetings into relationships.
Give, don’t take
One of the biggest mistakes people make when networking at conferences is to ask new contacts for a favour, such as providing free advice, as soon as they meet them. Instead, offer value to new contacts before you ask them for something. Ask meaningful questions that will help you understand their pain points and how you may be able to help them.
Put yourself in the right place, at the right time
Don’t limit your networking to the conference floor. Rather, stay at the event’s recommended hotel and attend as many social events as you can. Make yourself as visible and approachable as possible. You’ll find that people will often be more receptive to networking in a relaxed social setting, such as the hotel bar, than when they’re rushing to make it to the next panel session.
Use social media to connect
Complimenting a speaker on their presentation with a quick tweet may open up a window of communication. If they respond, offer to buy them a cup of coffee to discuss their ideas further. Also keep an eye on any trending conference hashtags. Scan the hashtags for any call-outs to unofficial meetups or unscheduled events, and respond to any tweets that refer to your area of expertise.
Know your personal brand
Your personal brand goes well beyond your choice of clothing. While your outfit and personal grooming are important for making a strong first impression, you must also have substance behind your style. That means knowing which conference niche you fit into, and how and to whom you can bring value.
Test yourself – if you can’t sell yourself and your business’ value proposition in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride, you may need to put more work into tightly defining your personal brand.
Bring your business cards
Business cards still matter, even in our digitally savvy world. Keep them in the same pocket all the time so you don’t have to go searching through wallets, laptop cases or handbags to find them. But don’t just hand out your business cards to all and sundry. Rather, make an introduction first and determine if this is a person you’d genuinely like to connect with after the conference.
Follow up with new contacts
It’s also important to collect business cards from new contacts you meet. But don’t just slip them into your top drawer when you get back into the office and forget about them. It’s important to follow up with people you meet – even if it’s just a short email telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them. A good database management solution such as Sansan can make the follow-up process more efficient and effective.
Think strategically about how you network at conferences, and you’ll sow the seeds for growing many new relationships.