I recently returned home to Nashville from speaking at BOLO in Scottsdale, Arizona. During my time there, I was reminded of the importance of actively networking, but doing so in an honest, sincere and slow way.
If you attend conferences by rushing around trying to meet as many people as you can so you can collect as many business cards as you can, you are doing it wrong. Effective business networking is about quality over quantity. Take the time to get to know people.
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Attend the presentations with topics that most interest you. Spend the coffee break after the presentation to introduce yourself to a fellow attendee. Ask the person what he or she thought of the presenter and presentation. The best thing about smaller conferences is that most people have a shared experience. You can bet the person you approach will have an opinion on the session you both watched. Talking about a presentation is the perfect icebreaker; take it slow and listen to what other people tell you.
Plan the presentations you most want to see, but remember that spontaneity can also lead to great relationships. If you connect with a person, why not skip the next presentation and use it to continue talking? Or invite a small group of people you meet to a lunch at a local restaurant? I experienced this firsthand at BOLO, and it was a highlight of my time in Scottsdale.
The following are 10 more tips for effective conference networking. Try to put these to use the next time you are attending an event.
1. Arrive early and stand near the entrance, bar or food table. This is where people congregate.
2. Practice your elevator pitch before attending. Who are you? What do you do? Why are you attending?
3. Actively listen to their answers. Use eye contact and body language to show you are listening.
4. Take notes on the person’s business card about your conversation to refer to later. Can you help him or her?
5. Talk to strangers. Forget what your parents taught you.
6. Be more interested in other people than yourself.
7. Use the person’s first name several times as you are speaking to help remember it.
8. Bring mints and gum to keep your breath fresh.
9. Drink plenty of water and go easy on the alcohol.
10. Follow up with each person you meet after the conference. Staying in touch is a crucial part of networking at conferences.
This article, “Conference networking should focus on quality, not quantity”, originally appeared in the Tennessean.
Photo from BOLO / IseBox