Chances are, you occasionally attend business conferences to hear from expert speakers and learn more about growing trends within your industry. While conference panels can be excellent sources of information and insight into your niche, they’re also ideal places to network and make connections that can help your business grow.
Although some of the other attendees may technically be your competition, if you focus on sharing information and resources, you can learn from and help one another instead of acting as rivals. And the more influential connections you’ve made, the more likely you’ll get referrals for lucrative opportunities in the future. Here are some tips on making the most of business conferences as a networking event.
Use social media to find fellow attendees in advance
Unless you’re fearless, it’s much easier to talk to a stranger when you’ve already corresponded online. If you’re planning to attend a work-related conference, find out if the conference has a Facebook page, and search Twitter for mentions of the conference. When you find other attendees discussing their plans to attend, send introductory messages to them and ask them if they’d like to meet up at the conference. You might even consider organising a pre-conference coffee meeting for a group of attendees, so that you’ll have a few new friends before the event begins.
Ask for introductions
You’ll likely have a few acquaintances at the conference from previous get-togethers (or from social media, assuming you followed the previous tip). Ask them to introduce you to some of their other contacts in attendance. They’ll be happy to oblige, and being introduced will give you a far less awkward way to strike up a conversation with a new person.
Hand out business card liberally
Don’t be afraid of coming across as too aggressive: Networking is one of the prime focuses of a business conference, so pass out a business card to everyone you speak with. Along with clearly illustrating what you do, your business card gives new contacts the tools to get in touch with you easily if they’d like to talk again or discuss work opportunities.
Give a specific compliment
Compliments are the quickest way to win people over—but, if they aren’t chosen carefully, they can seem insincere. Instead of simply telling one of the conference speakers, “That was a great speech,” focus your compliment on a specific moment in the speech, and why you appreciated the comment. Your thoughtfulness will catch the speaker’s attention, and could be the start of a lively conversation.
Don’t be afraid to start a conversation
Yes, it’s easier to start a conversation with someone if you’ve been given an introduction first—but when you’re at a conference, all of the attendees are in similar industries, so it should be simple to find topics to discuss. Strike up a conversation with someone else who’s standing alone. Don’t think too hard about what to say: Just ask where he’s from, or what sort of business he runs. The rest of the conversation will follow naturally.
Don’t stay in one spot for too long
The purpose of networking is to reach out to a large group of people, so try not to spend too long talking to any individual person. Conferences aren’t the place to form cliques; they’re about making connections. When a conversation reaches a natural stopping point after five or ten minutes, excuse yourself to refill your drink, then strike up a conversation with someone new upon your return. Make sure to exchange business cards with each conversation partner, so it will be simple to follow up with them later if you’d like to continue talking.