Conferences are great opportunities to learn new skills, stay up to date with industry best practices, and gather information to share with your colleagues. But, just as importantly, conferences are a great avenue to network and connect with other professionals.
Networking at a conference provides an opportunity to connect with other practitioners who face similar joys and struggles with their careers, as you do with yours. Some of my best take-aways from previous conferences have been the ideas and tips I’ve received from talking with other nonprofit professionals at the conference.
Be sure to not miss the great opportunities to network with others at your next conference… here are some tips to help you maximize your conference networking:
- Get mentally prepared: To maximize your conference networking, prepare before the conference even starts. Be sure and let folks know you will be there via social media – you may even make some pre-conference connections with other attendees. Before the conference, research some of the speakers by visiting their websites and perhaps you can even access a list of attendees via the conference website. Through preparing, you can pre-identify if there are particular individuals you want to meet at the conference. By being mentally prepared you will be in a great position to maximize your networking at the conference.
- Business Cards: You may think that business cards are “old fashion,” but at a conference they are a must. Be sure to bring plenty of your business cards to the conference. And, if someone gives you their card, reciprocate and give them yours. To keep all your new contacts straight, jot down notes and reminders to yourself on the back of the business cards you receive. This will help you after the conference as you sort through your new contacts. It will also provide a great reminder as to who you want to follow up with or who you agreed to share items with after the conference.
- Use technology wisely: In between sessions? Sitting at the conference lunch? Put your blackberry/droid/iphone away! Having your phone out and messing with emails doesn’t make you approachable for others who are networking. Instead, use technology wisely – for example, live tweet from the conference and use the twitter hashtag for the conference. This will allow you to connect with others who are attending the conference and also those who are following the conference tweets from home.
- Show up: You will only be able to realize the benefits of conference networking if you are in attendance; and in attendance at ALL events. This includes the early morning breakfast and the social hour with the questionable appetizers. To maximize the opportunity for networking, show up early to events and mingle around afterwards. Once you show up at events, strike up a conversation by asking a question to those sitting next to you. After you ask a question, be sure to listen to the response, don’t just spend the entire time talking about yourself.
- Yes, introverts network: Perhaps you are an introvert and the thought of going into a room and talking to folks you don’t know seems like the least amount of fun you can imagine… well, there are ways you can make it more bearable. One strategy is to get an extroverted buddy. As your buddy meets new people and networks, you can tagalong and meet new people. Or, there is the “Smile and Listen” approach – by smiling, you are making yourself approachable and can then just listen to others who are talking. Amazing what you can learn by listening!
Beyond the conference, it is also important to follow up with new connections you made at the conference. If you told someone you would email them an example of your XYZ program, then be sure to do it. You may also want to consider sending a LinkedIn request to some of the individuals you met at the conference. (Be sure to specify in the LinkedIn request that you met them at the conference.) Also, consider following some of the conference attendees on twitter and keep the conversation going.
When you are attending your next conference, be sure to maximize the conference’s networking potential. Trust me, the benefits are worth the extra effort!