Business Networking At Conferences
Conferences offer some of the most fertile opportunities available for business networking. Just consider it for a minute – you’re around plenty of people with similar interests and focuses to yourself. You’re all there primarily to learn, not only from the topics covered at the conference, but also from each other.
That’s where the networking comes in. There’s just so much opportunity at a conference, and so many people around, that the biggest problem is how to take advantage of it all.There are, however, some strategies to make sure you utilise the conference to its fullest and make contacts.
In The Conference HallThe best way to get to know new people is simply to introduce yourself. When you go in to hear someone speak, sit with people you’ve never met before. You might feel a little uneasy and nervous, but go ahead and introduce yourself anyway – if you extend a hand, people will shake it and introduce themselves in turn.
Make sure you have an ample supply of business cards with you, and exchange them with those all around you. Having got them, and having talked to a number of people, you need to do more with their cards than simply keep them in a drawer forever.
Make small notes on the back – where you met them, what they’re like. Later, when you’re back in the office, follow up with a brief e-mail or phone call. The chances are that they’ll be surprised to be remembered, and you’ll build a relationship with some of the people you meet (just by the law of averages you won’t contact everyone, nor hear back from all those you contact).
Social SituationsPart of any conference is the meet and greet, and the lunches and dinners. Take advantage of them. You might well have a set place for the meals, but at drinks sessions and meet and greets you can circulate. Move from group to group, talk to people, exchange cards and ideas – ideas are especially important, as there’s far more to networking than a simple card.
Once again, make notes later on the card (while you still remember details about the people) and follow up after you’re back in the office. You won’t be the only person “working the room” (as it’s known), but you might make some excellent contacts as you do the rounds.
WorkshopsIn all probability, the conference will include workshops. You should plan well ahead and offer to give a talk or host a workshop (you’ll probably need to suggest it a year ahead of time). It offers a great opportunity for you to speak on a topic where you have expertise. But more than that, it gives both you and your company important exposure in the field and at the conference.
Again, that’s a perfect chance to network. Once you’ve given your presentation, people will want to talk to you. Take the time to chat and exchange cards. This will be especially valuable for it’s with people who know your specialty.
Make a particular point of following up with them and working to develop a strong business relationship.
You shouldn’t expect to close any sales at a conference. That’s not the aim. It’s where you meet and build contacts. Think of it that way, and you can make the most of every conference you attend.