5 Networking Insights for Conferences … or any other venue

NetworkingVicki Salemi contributed an article to US News & World Report wherein she shared five tips for “working” a conference. She suggests that you “go into the conference focused on making three quality connections, rather meeting dozens of people you’ll never follow up with.”

It is difficult to figure out where to start networking when you attend a large conference. I have often talked with colleagues and others who felt that their networking was effective because they exchanged “X” number of business cards. Nurturing and developing contacts requires a tremendous amount of effort. So, if you collect 100 business cards and don’t have time to develop and implement a strategy to cultivate these contacts, then your networking or outreach is less effective than it could be.

It can be intimidating because it always seems like most of them know each other but you don’t know them and more importantly, they don’t know you. Of course, you want to be noticed, and wonder how you can effectively work the room.

Vicki Salem offers her five networking rules below, but if you would like to read the original article, click here:

1. Focus on three people. Yes, it can be overwhelming when there’s a sea of unfamiliar faces. Yes, it may seem like they all know each other as they chit chat during the morning coffee break, but in reality, they don’t. Your mission is to focus on making merely three solid contacts at this conference. You can make two of them by looking at the person to the right and the left of you once you sit down. Yes, it can really be that easy. And realistically, would you rather have 10 empty conversations with people that lead nowhere or three quality conversations that lead to follow-up coffee meetings?

2. Make small talk. It can really be this simple – just go ahead and start talking. You may be wondering where that third contact will come from. Here’s a hint: Stand near the food. (Or if there’s a mixer afterward, stand near the bar or by the kitchen, where servers are walking around with food.) If someone doesn’t strike up a conversation with you first, go ahead and make a comment like: “That’s a really nice breakfast, isn’t it? Hi, my name is …” Then take it from there. It may feel daunting to approach a group of three or more people, so think small to have a bigger impact. Approach one person standing there merely filling his or her cup of coffee.

3. Connect over something you have in common. You can take a few follow-up routes from here. One can involve asking the other person if he or she has ever attended this particular event before. Another can involve asking the basics of where this person is from and then what he or she does.

Instead of keeping the conversation strictly focused on business, you may want to go on a tangent and talk about an upcoming summer vacation or an amazing ballgame you just attended. Yes, it may seem far-fetched, but you’ll humanize the conversation. That way, it’ll feel more like a dialogue instead of an exchange of elevator pitches. Find common ground. Maybe you both went to Brazil last year, for example. This way, following up will feel more personal and memorable. You can begin the email by stating: “We met last week at the conference downtown. We had a fascinating conversation about the food in Brazil …”

4. Cut yourself some slack. It’s going to be a long day, full of a lot of information and many unfamiliar faces. If you go into the event with a strategy to meet three people, you’ll likely leave feeling fulfilled and satisfied. There’s also a great shot you’ll have conversations with more than three people, especially if you end up speaking to a group of people congregating, or if one of your new contacts has colleagues there to introduce you to, too.

5. Enjoy the process. Whether you speak with someone new at the breakfast buffet, hang out at the name tag table or go directly to your seat to talk to the people sitting near you, it’s all good. Your goal is to soak in all the information, make the most of your time and follow up with your new contacts. It’s better to have meaningful conversations with a handful of people than to collect a stack of business cards from a dozen people you met and have absolutely no connection with. The approach to the large event involves keeping it light and fun. Yes, it may be a serious conference, but if you go into it feeling overwhelmed, you will likely exit the door that way, too. Think small, think friendly and think follow-ups.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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