You’ve paid the fees. You arrived at the venue. You’ve written your name on the “Hello, my name is…” tag. You’re ready to jump in the fray! Or are you?
No matter how large or small or how many days, the thought of networking at a conference generally brings up feelings of the first day at a new school, and no one wants to be the kid at the lunch table eating lunch all by his/herself.
If the aforementioned paragraph describes your feelings about networking, fear not. As President Roosevelt once said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” The basis of good networking is creating authentic connections that will grow into future relationships.
Like the first day at a new school, networking at a conference does take work. After all work is at the root of the word. However, networking isn’t about working harder, it’s about working smarter, and here’s a little secret…you’ve already been doing it.
Each time you meet with a new referral or acquire a new patient you’re exercising your networking muscles. You’re laying the foundation that will create a future relationship. Now I know what you’re thinking, “I’m in my office meeting with a patient that is seeking my expertise; a far cry from being in a hall with hundreds of people, most of whom I’ve never met.” So just in case you’re not convinced you got the chops to effectively network at the next conference you attend, here are some handy tips that will give you the confidence to network like a Rockstar!
Create a game plan
Whether the next conference you attend is one day, two days or three days, you must always remember that time is precious. Good networking requires good planning. As you devise your plan, keep this question in mind: What are my intentions? Are you attending to learn more about your industry? Are there specific people or organizations you’d like to meet? Knowing what your intentions are will assist in your planning.
Be sure to set your goal. You’re not there to toss cards back and forth the way a collector would trade baseball cards, you’re there to make genuine relationships. Connections is the name of the game, not contacts. Decide how many connections you want to create.
Make sure that time remains on your side. This is not speed dating. You’ll want to invest some time building a connection with the people you meet. Keeping the time in mind will assist in the decision of how many connections you want to make and possibly the order in which you place them if you’re looking to meet someone specific such as the keynote speaker.
Practice an Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is probably one of the most essential components to your pre conference planning. The best networkers are the people who are bringing their authentic selves to the proverbial table. You don’t want to sound like a robot or an actor spouting out lines of a script, but you also don’t want to ramble and waste precious time and opportunity. An elevator pitch allows you to present your best authentic self. The best way to do this is to lead with your passion. If you’re going to a niche or an industry conference, chances are other attendees do the same things that you do. What makes you different is your passions and the path you walked to become who you are. The essence of an elevator pitch is to be succinct and memorable, like good poetry. It’s also important to note that you should have more than one elevator pitch handy. Remember the captcha system…you are not a robot. The last thing you want to do is to go around to multiple people for multiple days chattering the same sentences. The uniqueness of your elevator pitch is what will make others want to know more.
Build A Rapport
Okay, you’re at the conference. You have your plan and you have your pitches ready. The long and short of networking is to create connections that will organically grow into relationships, and the only way to do that is to establish and build a rapport when connecting with other attendees. Building a rapport breaks down to two words, time and effort, and although time is tight at a conference, it’s up to you to make the best use of it. The first step to establishing a rapport is to smile. It may sound simple, but often the simplest things are the most effective. A smile brings down guards and opens the pathway to communication and connection. Other ways to create a rapport are:
o Add a handshake or fist or elbow bump to your smile.
o Make eye contact.
o Use the person’s name.
As you begin to converse with attendees and build a rapport don’t forget to take notes. You can take notes on the business cards you collect, or you can take a small notepad with you. As you talk with other attendees take mental notes as you listen. Listening is an active part of having a conversation, so is asking good follow up questions. This shows that you’re fully engaged in the conversation. Once you depart transfer, your mental notes to the person’s card or on your notepad. Taking notes will assist you in asking good follow-up questions.
Jump In and Join In
As seminars end and clusters of conversations break out, it can feel a bit intimidating to walk up to a group in mid-chat and trying to find a way to enter the conversation. It’s like trying to hop into swinging double Dutch ropes, but don’t stand on the perimeter and listen, jump in, and wait for a lull in the conversation to introduce yourself. Maybe ask a good follow up question?
Don’t Be Afraid to Offer
Relationships are reciprocal. Networking is not about asking for what you desire, it’s about having something to offer. The best networkers have something to offer the people they connect with. Perhaps you know someone that an attendee wants to connect with; offer to be the bridge that makes that connection. As you listen to fellow attendees and discover that you can provide something of value, do offer to assist. By coming into an event with an “offer” mentality, the people you connect with will know that the connection isn’t just about what you want.
Know how to exit
It’s important to know when to enter a conversation but knowing how to exit it is equally important. Ending with a compliment and a follow up item is a great way to wrap up and exit a conversation.
Don’t Forget to Follow-up
Following-up with attendees you’ve connected with is the final component of networking and it happens after the conference is over. Send an email thanking them for the conversation and offer any help or solutions to the offer you made during the conference. The follow through you exhibit immediately after attending the conference will determine the duration of the connection.
You have the tips. Now go forth, mingle, listen, ask questions, and make some great connections. And remember everyone at the conference wants to be there, so there are no strangers.