Not all conferences are created equal, and yes, some are more fun than others. Either way, it's your name on the conference badge, so don't leave home without your bag, your business cards, and these networking tips and tricks.
Networking by its very definition is centered on the concept of sharing information. As we gear up for Staffing Industry Analyst's largest North American contingent workforce conference, I couldn't help but think about the struggles associated with networking at a conference.
Long days coupled with low energy, and a sea of people are just some of the nuances of attending a conference. And unlike smaller networking events, large-scale conferences pack an arsenal of information. Needless to say, if you aren't comfortable networking to begin with, then these types of events can make you want to run for the hills.
As conferences continue to mature into the digital age, here are a number of ways to connect with conferences speakers and attendees with or without the awkward small talk.
Connect with Speakers on LinkedIn
The presenters and speakers are there because they are a subject matter expert in their field. So why not connect with them via LinkedIn or Twitter? This is a great way to start a long-term dialogue with someone who can really help you when you're in a professional jam.
Personally speaking, I see the biggest increase in my social media followers when I'm actively tweeting at the conference, mentioning the speakers by their Twitter handle, and using the official conference hashtag.
Talk to Attendees
I know it's so much easier to stare blankly at your phone or chat with your team members, but you're in a community of other you's. By sparking a genuine human interaction, not only are you creating a potentially meaningful relationship, but you are increasing your chances to uncover the answer to the problem you came to the conference to solve.
Need a little push? My go-to questions include: How are you enjoying the conference? Is this your first time here? What problem did you come here to solve? And what's next on your agenda?
Be a Resource
You know the saying you get what you give? Well, the same principle applies here. Whether you are a subject matter expert or just a professional in your field, you have a unique perspective to offer. If someone asks you a question directly or you hear it in one of the sessions, speak up. If you are more introverted, that's OK. Connect with the person privately after the session has concluded. Besides exercising good karma, you're building up your network.
Rehearse Your Pitch
Now hear me out on this one. I know there are differing opinions on the relevancy of an elevator pitch, but from a networking perspective, it's going to come up whether or not you like it.
Come up with a few variations that you can use in anticipation of who you plan to connect with. For example, if at your next conference your goal is to learn new industry best practices, say you are with a company that is actively pursuing information on a particular topic. If it's to explore the technologies, then highlight what industry and/or existing technologies your organization utilizes. The point is to cater your elevator pitch to different audiences. Keep it fresh, keep it relevant, but most important, keep it brief.
Refresh Your LinkedIn Profile
Make sure to update your LinkedIn profile well before setting up your out of office message. This means including your most current place of employment, highlighting areas that you specialize in the summary section, and at a minimum, uploading a proper LinkedIn profile photo. You never know who you will connect with, and there's nothing worse than being face-to-face with someone as they stare down at your ten-year-old LinkedIn profile photo.
Reconnect with Past Attendees
This is a great way to maintain relationships with contacts you've met at previous events. Touch base with them leading up to the conference, and schedule time to catch up over a break or grab dinner together.
New connections can be made on every square foot of the conference; unless you are on your phone or computer the entire time. Keep your head up. Now is the time to connect with people at eye level.
I hope you find these networking tips useful in expanding your network and uncovering your next big idea! What are your top networking tips and tricks? Feel free to comment below!