If you’re anything like me you both love and dread going to conferences. I love them because I like to learn as much as I can, but at the same time I find them a little bit awkward and kind of intimidating. I’m really just not that fabulous at networking in such a large forum, but I’m working on it. Today I’m even attending a statewide event on child abuse and neglect with a friend of mine. To get us by, and to help you in the future, here are six ways to network at a conference. I’ll give you an update later next week about what I learned and how I applied these techniques!
- Take a deep breath: First and foremost, relax. This is a conference. No one’s there to put you down or be rude. Remember that everyone is there for the same reason you are: to learn and meet new people.
- Research speakers and attendees (if possible) ahead of time: The key here is to be prepared. If you already know a little bit about the speaker or the people coming, you’ll be better equipped to ask questions and engage in discussion.
- Ask meaningful questions: It’s great that you finally met a new contact, but you need to ask meaningful questions. Get past the small talk and ask things like “What are you passionate about?” or “What got you into this line of work?” These are the types of questions that create good contacts that are memorable and help you better understand if they could fit your networking needs.
- Grab a friend: It’s scary to go to these things alone. Trust me, I’ve only attended one by myself over the past few years and it was rough. If you can, bring a good friend who is also looking to build up their network. This way you can both make some good connections and you won’t have the fear or discomfort of looking awkward standing alone.
- Ask for a business card (and give them out if you have them): Make sure you ask for people’s business cards and hand out your own if you have them. It’s all well and good if you met a great new contact, but it doesn’t help if you don’t remember their name or know how to reach them.
- If there is a specific networking portion (i.e. a networking lunch like we have) sit at a table with people you don’t know: It can be really difficult to branch out and sit at a table where you don’t know anyone (except maybe the friend you brought along), but this is key to actually networking! If you sit with the same old group, you won’t meet anyone new and that defeats the purpose. The best thing to do is find a partially filled table and ask if you can join. They’ll more than likely gladly accept and you’ll have a fun hour or so lunch learning about new people and their experiences.
Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for working the room at a conference?