Have you ever been to a networking conference but felt like you walked away with nothing? How can you do better next time?
Conference networking can be a game-changer for your career and professional development. But simply attending a networking conference and collecting a handful of contacts is unlikely to yield significant benefits (unless luck comes into play). To make the most of it, you need a strategy.
Here are eight tips for successful conference networking.
Conference Networking: Why Bother?
Conferences are great places to network because they’re full of people you already have something in common with. Specifically, you’re all interested in the conference’s theme and it’s much easier to connect with someone if you bond over a shared interest.
One of the most valuable takeaways from a networking conference is the new relationships and professional contacts you can make. Understanding how to network at conferences, and going in with the right strategy can go a long way in helping you climb up the career ladder.
Tip #1: Help to Organize the Conference
When you first hear that a networking conference is going to take place, contact the organizers and offer to help them plan the event. For instance, offer to curate the guest list or find a location for the conference. Conference organizers are usually so busy that they take help from anyone who offers it.
Becoming a conference organizer will help your networking efforts in two ways. First, you’ll gain “insider knowledge” of who’s attending the event, meaning you can plan who you want to connect with and research their interests. Second, you’ll have access to private events for organizers, giving you the opportunity to network with conference leaders.
Tip #2: Speak at the Networking Conference
If you hear about an upcoming networking conference on a theme that you’re an expert in, apply to be a speaker. Send organizers an outline of the specific topic you’d like to discuss, and explain why you feel you’re the right person to address this issue (for example, because you have extensive experience in the field, or because the topic is a passion of yours).
Becoming a conference speaker will increase the chances of your networking efforts being successful because you’ll gain status. When the event’s attendees hear that you’re making a speech, they’ll immediately assume that you’re an important figure in your field. Therefore, they’ll be more receptive to your networking advances, and they may even try to initiate contact with you.
Tip #3: Be an Active Audience Member
During the conference, be an active audience member at every event or speech you attend. For example, if the speaker invites questions, ask one. If your question is particularly insightful, others’ interest in you will be piqued.
Tip #4: Organize an Unofficial Conference Meetup
At many conferences, attendees have spare hours between events. Make the most of this time by organizing an unofficial conference meetup. For example, suggest a trip to the conference center’s bar to discuss the talks you’ve heard so far.
Organizing a meetup is advantageous since, as you control who attends the event, you can ensure that you get to spend time with the people you want to network with. This isn’t always possible at “official” conference events. For example, at some conferences, attendees are split off into mandated groups, and if the person you want to network with isn’t in your group, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Tip #5: Make Friends With a Potential “Big Name”
As soon as you get to the conference, make friends with an attendee who you suspect will become a “big name” at the event—for example, a speaker with a particularly interesting topic of discussion, or a prestigious CEO. Arrive at the conference early, and wait near the entrance until your chosen “big name” arrives. Then, do all you can to foster a friendship.
It’s important to make friends with the person before they become popular at the event—for example, before they give their speech. Once the person becomes “conference famous,” others will be clamoring to meet them, and you’ll have to fight for their attention.
Getting to know a big name benefits you because these attendees are often introduced to dozens of people throughout the conference, from fans to other important speakers. If you’re lucky, your new friend will introduce you to these people, who you can then network with.
Tip #6: Come to the Conference Armed With Interesting Information for Networking
Before the conference begins, compile information that you think your fellow attendees will find interesting—for example, the latest trends in the industry being discussed at the event or the best restaurants in the area around the conference venue.
Once you’re at the conference, share this information regularly to gain a reputation for being “in the know.” Potential new contacts will start to approach you to gain access to your knowledge.
Tip #7: Practice the “Deep Bump”
The “deep bump” is a conversational technique in which you create a strong connection with someone new in a short time—for example, two minutes. It’s particularly useful when you network at conferences since attendees are often very busy and you’ll only have a limited amount of time to get to know them.
According to the author, there are several tricks to mastering the deep bump:
- Make direct eye contact with the person you’re “bumping.” This will make them feel like they’ve got your full attention, increasing their positive opinion of you and deepening your connection.
- Ask the person one or two personal questions. For example, ask what their favorite hobbies are or what their family life is like. Exchanging personal information creates a deeper connection than merely making small talk.
- Listen deeply to what the other person is saying, and demonstrate that you’re doing so. As we’ve already noted, making people feel listened to makes them feel more comfortable around you.
- Reveal something vulnerable about yourself. For example, tell the person you’ve been under stress lately, or that you’re really excited to be at the conference since you’ve never been invited before. The person you’re talking to will feel honored that you’ve confided in them, and your connection will deepen.
Tip #8: Only Try to Connect With a Few People
When it comes to conference networking, it’s best to limit yourself to connecting with only three or four new contacts at every event you attend. Try to network with any more people than this, and you’ll probably find yourself prematurely ending conversations so that you can quickly move on to speaking to the next person, which is rude.
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- How to build and maintain a successful professional network
- The 4 key strategies to building up a network
- Why you have to put in work to keep your network relationships strong