10 Tips for Cultivating Connections at Conferences and Events
All event and conference planners (including BlogHer's), sponsors and hosts hope they deliver on at least one of the main reasons people attend their events. And it's no surprise that networking is always cited as one of the top three reasons most people attend conferences, conventions or events. (The other two include, learning/education and getting out of the office.)
Unfortunately, other than offering a "networking mixer" or happy hour at the beginning, and sometimes end of the conference, most attendees that don't have a "buddy" have to fend for themselves once they arrive. And, no kidding, every single time I present my keynote Cultivating Connections at "insert conference name here," or a networking best practices session, 80% of the audience will not only say they attended hoping to meet some new people, 80% also say they would identify themselves as a reluctant networker.
Therefore, with the fall conference season just around the corner, I wanted to share some of my favorite and proven networking tips for cultivating connections at conferences and events. My goal is to provide practical tactics to help ensure you are ready to make the most of all the opportunities to connect that will come your way at each and every conference or event you attend going forward.
1. Don't take networking too seriously. It can and should be fun. Connect with the intention of helping others rather than simply expecting to find the elusive perfect job or new client. Relax, take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can bring to the party or offer in the form of contacts, knowledge or resources.
2. Improve your outlook, and your ability to connect will change. If you have a negative outlook on networking, you're probably sabotaging your chances at connecting with others. Dump the negative attitude, be friendly, and you might be surprised at what comes back your way. Put all the negative or disappointing encounters you may have had in the past behind you and focus on what’s possible today and in the near future. As Vince Lombardi said, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get back up."
3. Take a proactive approach. Don’t wait for others to initiate conversations or hide behind your mobile device(s). Resist the urge to pull out your smartphone or tablet when you arrive early to a session and instead chat up someone near you. (See #8 below for how.) You eventually have to make yourself accessible in order to meet people to know if you'll really connect with them.
4. Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum if you're at an event where it's being served. Being relaxed is good, but having your buzz on, and then acting inappropriately, is never a good way to be memorable. Do I really need to say more about this?
5. Be the person to include others in the conversation. Your smile is the key to helping other people feel at ease when they try to approach you or join a conversation circle. Take that 2 seconds to say, “Please join us.” What a great way to create a good impression and even set an example for others. As Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
6. Be polite and considerate. Good manners never go out of style. Don’t be guilty of the name tag scan. Be present and mindful when interacting or trying to connect with others. And, remember, a conference is a time to be noncompetitive and social in a professional yet friendly way. Save the competitiveness for the miniature golf outing, if there is one.
7. Be sincere and open, and follow through on the commitments you make. Authenticity leaves a lasting impression. Even if you don't find a way to assist one another immediately, you never know when someone might remember you and introduce you to a key new contact down the road. And if you promise to make an introduction or e-mail a link to a new-to-them resource, be sure to follow up after the event. Follow-up is a key factor in making a good impression and creating lasting relationships that lead to new opportunities. After all, fortune IS in the follow-up, so try to do yours within 48 hrs, if possible, and don't let more than a week pass before you reconnect with a new contact.
8. Make a graceful entrance. Get comfortable with smiling in public. As mentioned earlier, your smile is the key to helping put others at ease, and when someone with a smile approaches you at a conference, don’t you often smile back in kind? As you approach, extend your hand for a handshake and introduce yourself. Open your conversation with the one sure thing you know you have in common: Find out what motivated them to attend the session you’re both at or if this is the first time they’ve been to the conference. Another easy question is “So, Jane, what are you working on these days?” And because I approach most of my networking as a form of community service, and have a pay it forward ethos about it, I typically follow-up with a, “Is there anything you need help with in your world right now?”
9. Make a graceful exit. Get comfortable with one of the many easy ways to exit a conversation. It’s always pleasant to hear, “Well, Chris, I enjoyed hearing about your business (or work or goals or history as a blogger), but I need to find my roommate (or the ladies room, or the bar, or the event host) and I will definitely keep your card handy should I think of any ideas (or resources or editors or partners) for your new project (or book or blog or services).”
10. Business cards and a pen: your conference best friends. Always have your biz card and a pen somewhere on you. And be sure to replenish your card stash each morning or during breaks. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their card when you think you might be able to offer them assistance and as a way to note their need somewhere on their card as a reminder for yourself. A lot of people believe cards have gone by the wayside, but I think this is one of the reasons they’re still relevant.
As I said earlier, networking can actually be fun, so I hope you'll use these tips to help reframe the way you may have been thinking about it. Who knows? Maybe you'll enjoy, instead of dread, the next conference or event you are scheduled to attend.
What tips for networking at the BlogHer conferences would you add to these? How much time to do you allow yourself to follow up with new contacts?
If you like this post, please consider commenting or reach out via @sandyjk on Twitter. And if you'd like more networking tips, you will find plenty in my book, I'm at a Networking Event--Now What???: A Guide to Making the Most Out of Any Networking Event, which was the #1 pick on an Inc.com biz book list, and is available on Amazon and iBooks. More about me/BDM at belladomain.com.