So many business professionals dedicate time every year to attend conferences. And although they are a great place to keep up to date with the latest news in your industry, the real magic of conferences is in the networking. It’s at these shows where you can make connections that can lead to incredible opportunities you wouldn’t get elsewhere.
To make the most of these events, here are five secrets for better networking at your next conference:
Do Your Homework
A week before the conference, it’s important to plan out your goals for the event. Are you hoping to get a job offer? Find more business for your company? Make deeper connections to those in your industry?
Your aims for the event will influence which panels you attend and who you want to meet. Without a plan in place, it’s easy to waste your time talking to the wrong people and sitting through panels that don’t align with your goals.
Research the speakers and see if you can find an attendee list. Do your homework and get to know the people you’re aiming to connect with. It’s much easier to approach someone and start a conversation if you’re familiar with their business background, website and have something to talk about.
Collect Business Cards
Although it’s important to hand out your contact information to potential connections, it’s more important to collect business cards from others.
Not only does it show people you’re truly interested in them, it puts you in control of who you contact and when. Many people may take your card with good intentions of getting in touch but never do. By collecting cards you can confidently follow up and not miss out on a potential opportunity by waiting for the phone to ring.
Make a Meaningful Connection
Almost everyone at conferences will use the same questions, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” – it gets a little boring.
Stand out from the crowd and make more meaningful connections by asking interesting questions like, “What are you passionate about?”, “Who are you looking to connect with today?”, and “Which speaker has had the biggest impact on you so far?”
Get a couple of questions prepared in advance to ask those you network with. It shows others you’re genuinely interested in making that connection and will leave a lasting impression on those you network with.
Put Together an Awesome Swag Bag
If you’re setting up a booth at a conference, it’s important to do everything you can to stand out from the dozens of other booths at the show.
Everyone gives away free stuff at conferences, but most go with the usual pens, keychains, leaflets, and the like.
Step up your game and make a statement with a interesting, memorable swag bag. It’s easy enough to put together and will be a real highlight of the conference. And by giving away branded merchandise that people actually want to keep, your brand and business will constantly be in their mind.
The most important part of networking at a conference is following up with connections you’ve made. Once you’ve made that initial connection, show you’re committed to your intentions by sending a follow up email or connecting on social media.
Don’t wait longer than a few days after the conference so you’re still fresh in people’s minds. Even if the follow up doesn’t immediately lead to a new job or business opportunity, you’re laying the foundations for the future and building a solid network as you go.