How To Effectively Network At A Conference

Adriana Zardus

Two people networking and shaking hands

Conferences of any size can get overwhelming. Even the most extroverted person can find it exhausting being ‘on’ more than eight hours a day. Aside from sessions with subject matter experts, and introductions to the latest, cutting edge industry related products, networking is one of the most powerful outcomes from attending conferences. Heading into a conference knowing how to network effectively can help you make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. Networking is one of the most compelling reasons to attend industry conferences. 

The Facts About Networking

Sure, you can grow your connections through online platforms such as Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, and the like. But, there’s nothing more effective than to network in-person. 

This doesn’t start at the conference. There is some preparation needed before it. And, you’ll need to nurture some of those relationships once you’ve returned home. 

There are so many benefits that come from in-person networking at conferences:

  • Strengthen your network
  • Find Job Opportunities
  • Get Inspiration
  • Career Advice
  • Build Relationships
  • Interact With Decision Makers

How To Network Effectively

Connecting at conferences may take you far out of your comfort zone, especially if you’re not sure what type of protocol to follow. 

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so here are some tips to get you networking effectively. 

  1. If possible, stay in the same hotel as the conference: This is where all the action will take place. If possible, stay in the same hotel as the conference: This is where all the action will take place. Networking opportunities can happen anywhere from the elevators to the hotel bar after the sessions have ended.  
  2. Arrive at the conference prepared: Have an idea of who the speakers are, and who is attending. Make a list of who you think would be beneficial connections and seek those people out. Also, connect online with the people on your list. 
  3. Try to be approachable: This one can be tricky. The best advice is to be available. Don’t send “busy signals” to those wanting to connect with you. Make eye contact, instead of looking down at your phone, to show you’re ready to chat. 
  4. Be open to network outside of your list: While that list is good to have, it’s also a good idea to chat with random people. You never know who you’ll meet, and what type of impact they may have on your career.
  5. Use social media at the conference: Follow the designated hashtag to keep up with the online conversation. Insert yourself in conversations. Be sure to @mention the people you’ve met, and those you’re looking forward to connecting with. 
  6. Download the conference app: Most conferences have an app that is associated with it. Download it to your device. There you’ll find all sorts of information about the guests, speakers, and events. 
  7. Don’t forget your business cards: Order plenty, and make it a goal to exchange a certain amount of business cards every day of the conference. Your business cards should include information such as your name, email, phone number, and social handles. Make it easy for others to get ahold of you.
  8. Post-conference follow up: An essential step of the networking process is the follow-up. Those business cards you receive, make notes on them, so you know who you want to keep in touch with moving forward. Download a business card reader. You can find many options in your app store.
  9. Know how to bow out of a conversation: Having an exit strategy is as essential as having an introduction strategy. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in a conversation you wish never got started. Be ready to leave the conversation politely.  
  10. Memorize some conversation starters: When speaking with someone new, silence can be uncomfortable. Having some key questions to pull from, such as asking about their favorite part of their career, or how they got started, can keep the conversation flowing. 

What To Do When You Have “Networking Burnout”

Network burnout is bound to happen, especially when you’re at a conference for a few days. You don’t feel like attending sessions, joining the luncheons, or the twilight drink event. Well, there are other low-key ways to network effectively at a conference without all the overstimulation.

  • Sit in the lobby, and people watch. You’ll meet others who are feeling similar burnout. 
  • Hang out at the hotel bar, have a drink, and people watch for a bit. Again, you’ll meet people that way, too. 
  • It’s ok to have some alone time, too. You’ve probably already exchanged a bunch of business cards. Relax in your room and send some follow-up emails, and take a moment to decompress. 

Conferences can be intense with stimulation overload. Everything happens fast, from the wealth of information you’ll get from sessions to the relationships you’ll make. Going to a conference armed with networking best practices will help make the experience seamless, even when it feels as though your brain is going to explode. And, remember to enjoy your time, and listen to your body when it’s telling you to slow down.

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