Conferences are one of the best places for networking. You’re surrounded by people with similar interests, including many who can help you advance your career. There’s plenty of opportunity for the taking at conferences. You can learn a lot from your fellow attendees and may even land yourself a new position, since 46 percent of jobs get filled through traditional networking. Here are 10 networking tips to use for your next conference.
1. Have a Plan
Attending a conference can be overwhelming, especially if it’s a large one with a lot of people and events. Do yourself a favor and schedule your time beforehand. In addition to deciding which presentations to go to, build some time into your schedule for networking. You can also plan some of the specifics of your networking. Before the conference, research who’s going to be there and decide who you want to talk to.
2. Start Early
You don’t have to wait until the conference to start networking. Connect with other attendees on social media beforehand and post about the event on your feeds. Send fellow attendees a message saying you hope to see them there and ask them which sessions they plan on attending. You can also reach out to presenters and tell them you’re looking forward to their talks. That way you’ll have the foundations of a relationship already in place when you get to the conference.
3. Elevator Pitch
The elevator pitch is a tried and true networking tip. Your pitch should be about 60 to 90 seconds long, or between 150 and 250 words. Keep it to the point while still showing a bit of your expertise, passion and personality. You can memorize it and practice before you go, but do your best to keep it genuine and natural-sounding too.
4. Look Approachable
Networking has two main purposes — maintaining relationships you’ve already started and meeting new people. To increase the number of people you meet, look approachable whenever you can. Only look at your phone or laptop when you have to. A lot of people look at their devices when they’re bored or uncomfortable, but situations in which you’re waiting around are often some of the best opportunities for networking. Other attendees are probably looking for something to do at these times too.
5. Ask Questions
Conferences are excellent opportunities to tell other people about yourself, but of course, you also want to get to know others. When talking to people at your conference, be sure to show interest in them, engage with what they’re saying and ask questions. Try to think of some things to ask before you go. Often, people lead with basic questions like “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” You can also try asking people what their favorite presentation or session of the conference was so far.
6. Reach Out Right Away
Often, after a conference, people come home with a stack of business cards that ends up gathering dust. They put off reaching out to the people who gave them cards, and the connections end up getting lost. Instead, reach out as soon as someone gives you a card. Send them an email with your information and a reminder of who you are to get the conversation started and help them remember you. This strategy can help keep your networking efforts from going to waste.
7. Take Notes
At conferences, you typically meet lots of different people, so it’s easy to forget details about some of them. To help you remember your connections, write a few notes about each person on their business card, on a notepad or on your phone. Jot down something you talked about, what they were wearing, a funny joke they told you or anything else that will help you remember them.
8. Just Go for It
Networking can feel awkward, especially at first. It’s natural to worry about how someone might react if you walk up to them and introduce yourself. One of the great things about conferences is that it’s acceptable — and even expected — that people will come up to you and start conversations. If you see someone you want to meet and they don’t look overly busy, just go for it. Don’t miss out on the networking opportunity your conference offers.
9. Supplement With Social Media
While you want to focus on face-to-face interactions, you can also use social media to your advantage. Post about the conference and use event hashtags. Tag presenters when you tweet about their talks. Ask questions. Doing so can garner online interactions and may have even lead to face-to-face meetups.
10. Follow Up
Just as you want to start your networking before the event, you should also continue it once it ends. Post on social media or your company blog about the conference and reach out to the people you met. This will help keep the relationships alive following the event itself and help you make the most of your conference experience.
Do what you can to make the most of your conference experience, and you will likely come away with lots of contacts, business leads or even a possible new job.
Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.