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Best Practices for Networking at a Conference

Best Practices for Networking at a Conference

I am just about to head out to a conference in Boston and was thinking about networking, because I get asked a lot about the best ways to approach networking.

Why are you attending the conference? What are your goals?

Hopefully you are there for the education, strategy and budgeting, meeting exhibitors and old friends, the conference experience or maybe you need a professional recharge and find out what is happening in your industry.

I am guessing like many other conference attendees networking plays a large part. Here are some of my best advice for attending and networking at a conference.

Plan, Execute and Measure. It is always good to have a networking plan, to execute the plan and measure the results, just like with any marketing effort. Without one, it is so easy to get pulled into unplanned socializing, talks or presentations, which can waste precious time. Some of this is just fine, but put that into your plan too. Maybe you have a goal to meet 50 people from the event. If that is your goal, figure out how to execute to that goal. Post-event, measure against the goal, and answer the question, did you meet your goal?

Make Brutal Prioritizations. You cannot attend every session, even if you want to. Research and prioritize the educational sessions that you would like to attend, that actually provide you with value and stick to it!

Make appointments. Try to reach out to other conference attendees ahead of time to make arrangements to connect, there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting.

Conferences are expensive propositions. Think about the total cost of attending a conference and divide it by the networking hours available. An hourly rate of networking is a good reality check for ensuring your focus and productivity. If your goal for the conference it to meet prospects, pack as much networking into the day as you can. Avoid situations where your goal is not going to be met, for example, over the lunch hour, when things are busy and congested. My rule on networking at conferences is to arrive early and stay late.

Know the facility. When you arrive, it’s smart to do a quick walk about to find out where the large rooms are located so you don’t waste valuable time finding things when you could be networking!

Network everywhere. There are lots of places to network at large conferences. Cab lines, breakfast, elevators, escalators. I like to meet and talk to people in elevators. It drives my wife crazy, but I find it very uncomfortable the way no one speaks in elevators. And it’s another opportunity to network! I’ve met fascinating people in elevators.

Research speakers and presenters and capitalize. Plan and prioritize meeting and listening to the many speakers you will have the opportunity to hear. One of the great things about Twitter is that you can initiate a digital relationship before the event even happens by following, messaging, tweeting and re-tweeting. Remember the value exchange proposition. Meeting new people should be mutually beneficial.

Use Social Media. If you’re a marketer, you’re probably using social media, at least a bit. This is a great opportunity to learn and get started. Research and know your twitter hashtags for the event and use them when you tweet or create content #mpb2b #marketingprofs

Download the mobile app. Download the mobile event prior to the start of the conference. Get to know the application and get good at sharing. Marketers are usually good at sharing and staying connected. Last minute changes to conference programming are communicated via the app, so if a session gets moved, you are informed as soon as the organizers know about it.

Introvert or Extrovert? Not all of us are good at networking. If you are an introvert, it is nice to have wingperson by your side. If you see someone that needs help, offer to make introductions. You are part of a community when you attend a conference and that is one of the value propositions of organization.

Review the exhibitor list. Make a short list of which exhibitors to visit, ask questions, get educated and meet them. They are an important part of the industry and often have offerings that will help you become a better marketer, supplier, consultant or agency.

Get involved and have fun. Like your parents told you about school, get involved. Volunteer, do something to help the association. Offer to sponsor or start a walk or a run.

Bring lots of business cards. As old fashioned as it seems, business cards are the most efficient way to introduce yourself. You would be amazed at the number of people that run out of cards at conferences. Pro Tip – write down a follow up on the back of each business card you collect or snippits of the conversation or other cues. Makes it really easy for the follow up.

Like Golf and Tennis.

As I have blogged about networking at conferences before, networking is like a sport. You can fall down on this important task and may lose the benefit of networking. Just like in golf or tennis: it is all in the follow through.