Attending digital marketing conferences is a great way to stay up to date and learn new ways to improve your business. However, I find the networking opportunities to be of the greatest value. Last year I had the pleasure of speaking at MicroConf Europe and UnGagged and I made the effort to network, despite being an introvert.
I recently returned to the UnGagged London conference as a speaker this year and networking was at the top of my priorities list. Here is the blueprint that I follow to effectively network at conferences.
1. Create a list of prospects before the event.
You should have a list of people you want to connect with before even arriving at the conference location. This allows you to do a little preliminary research to prepare for potential encounters -- things such as identifying mutual connections or interests can help break the ice and lead to a smooth introduction.
Every conference website will have a list of speakers and some will even feature journalists and members of the media that are scheduled to attend. Another way to locate attendees is to search Twitter for conference related hashtags. Having your networking targets identified in advance establishes a goal -- you will network with more people this way rather than just wondering around aimlessly without a plan.
2. Stay at the event venue hotel.
You might be able to save a few dollars if you book a hotel down the street or across town, but you will miss out on so much valuable networking time. You aren’t going to make any introductions or engage in small talk during the actual presentations -- that happens before and after.
Leave your room early in the morning and get ready to network. Stick around after the sessions to continue your networking crusade. If you are traveling back and forth from the conference venue and another hotel you miss some of the most valuable networking opportunities.
3. Attend all planned social events.
Some of the best connections are made at the hotel bar and during planned networking events -- people are more laid back in a relaxed social setting. Mix in a few cocktails and guards are down, the vibe is welcoming and everyone is willing to mingle.
I can’t stress how much of a gold mine the hotel bar can be. You should make sure to hang out there in the evenings and during downtime -- even if you aren’t a drinker. I have been introduced to many high profile connections and started several business relationships at hotel bars during conferences.
4. Practice selling yourself in under 30 seconds.
When you are introduced to someone you want to be able to tell them about who you are and what you do -- but most people don’t have time, nor do they want to stand there and listen to you talk for several minutes.
Master a 30-second self-pitch. They key is to make it interesting without it sounding like an overly promotional sales pitch.
What do you do? Where are you from? What are two interesting and memorable facts about you? Use this information and create your introduction -- make sure the individual that you introduce yourself to is going to have a clear picture of you. They won't forget you because your introduction was both clever and memorable.
Related: How to Successfully Moderate a Panel
5. Be armed with business cards at all times.
You should have business cards on you at all times -- keep some in your pocket and in your laptop bag. You should even keep some in your carry-on bag when you travel to conferences -- airport lounges, rental car counters and baggage carousels all present networking opportunities prior to a big conference.
You don’t want to be the person that is just handing out business cards to anyone that will take one. I will initiate the business card exchange after an introduction if I want to connect with the person again after the conference. If not, I don’t offer my card.
I don’t network to collect business cards -- I do it to make connections that are going to lead to a potential mutually beneficial business relationship.
6. Make eye contact, shake hands and be confident.
Remember one thing -- you aren’t the only person that is going to be out networking. There are going to be some people that are on the radar of every attendee. First impressions are everything. Make sure you make eye contact with your target, smile, be pleasant, shake hands and emit confidence.
If you are shy, at least pretend you are having a good time and enjoying yourself.
7. Be a listener, not a bragger or boaster.
When starting a conversation with someone or joining in a group discussion make sure you don’t become the bragger or boaster. If you attend conferences regularly you know who I am referring to, as it never fails -- there is always one person that wants to constantly tell everyone how great he or she is, and how their company is “crushing it.”
Show a genuine interest in everyone you are introduced to and listen to what they have to say. All rewarding business relationships are born when there is a genuine connection made -- not a BS session followed by a business card exchange.
8. Follow up with everyone you met.
As soon as you get home from the conference, reach out to all of the connections you made while networking. Send out an email letting them know how much you enjoyed meeting them and schedule a time to speak in more detail right away.
You are more likely to get them to commit to a phone call or meeting right after the conference than you would be if you reached out to them months or even weeks after. Get them to commit while your introduction is still a fairly recent memory.
What other tips do you have for effective conference networking? Share them in the comment section below.