7 Great Ways to Network at Conferences and Professional ConventionsJan 04, 2014
1. Look for what you can freely give
The best way to receive at conference is to give freely without expecting anything in return. One of the greatest, lasting rewards is the joy of helping someone else.
Instead of looking for who can benefit you or your business, look for how you can help people without trying to start a business relationship with them.
2. Watch the official hashtag
Twitter is a powerful tool for consuming and sharing content during a conference, and it also creates great community. I recommend TweetChat for monitoring and participating in the conversation with the official Twitter hashtag.
This works easily by joining a “room” on TweetChat with the hashtag. You’ll see everything shared with that hashtag, including replies and retweets (although you can filter these). The timeline will automatically refresh on computers and mobile devices. (See PJ Douglas Sands and Africa Allah as featured by Black Enterprise Magazine as leading #BlacksInTech: Faces of CES 2013 by Marcia Wade-Talbert.)
You can even use TweetChat to easily participate in the conversation because it will automatically include the hashtag you’re following in every tweet you send through the TweetChat room.
3. Change your Twitter profile photo
You may have invested big bucks into a professional portrait photo and worked hard to use that photo everywhere. That’s great, but that’s most likely not how you look today. (I’m now sporting more facial hair than a mere goatee, and I’m experimenting with longer head hair.) Update your Twitter profile photo with a much more recent photo, even if it has to be a “selfie.”
Take this one step further and help others network with you by updating your photo daily with how you are dressed on that day. It will be easier for people to find you and talk in person if they know exactly how you look on that day.
4. Bring business cards, but don’t hand them out
We all hate spam. We hate it everywhere and in every form. If you go to a conference and start passing out business cards like a ninja throwing stars, then you’re essentially spamming potential relationships.
Bring your business cards, but be intentional about when you hand them out and to whom. If your card is irrelevant to the recipient, it will be wasted. And you won’t know whether it’s relevant until you have a conversation.
I usually carry a collection of four different business cards to all events. I make it a game to see if my conversation with the person warrants all four cards. If it seems like I don’t have a connection with the person I’m talking to, I don’t give them a card because they wouldn’t care about me anyway unless they asked for your card.
When you give a card, offer to write something, such as a website or tool, on it for the recipient. (Hint: this also means you should leave some white space on your cards.)
As an aside, consider making niche business cards that highlight specific aspects that may appeal to people you meet. If you already have a lot of niche cards, consider consolidating them into a “conference card” that focuses on your name and includes the other things you do.
5. Write on business cards you receive
Regardless of how someone else has handed you their business card, don’t just pocket it! Keep it in front of you or in your hands. Have a pen or marker ready to write down something about that person.
• Where you met them
• A tool or website they mentioned
• A reminder to followup with them
• Something that stood out to you about them
• A specific action to take (call, send a proposal, etc.)
Writing something on someone else’s card demonstrates a great respect on your part and greater engagement in your conversation. The simple act of writing will also help you remind the person and conversation better.
6. Use your the Conference website or mobile app
Most conferences have profiles that you can setup and mobile apps which contain useful tools like booth maps, press releases and session schedules. I love it even more when I can print it or export the schedule to my smart phone or tablet calendar. Visit the conference website often to see what interactive options are available. Some conferences even have social media and contact details for fellow attendees and speakers so you can reach out right away and engage in social conversation. When I see an event using Sched or Eventbrite I get excited because I know I will have offline access to the session schedules and tickets to save on battery life.
7. Use your smartphone
More often than not I find myself stuck with hundreds of business cards and flash drives after a conference. I bring ziplock bags and a sharpie to keep them all separated. I also aspire to enter them all into my smart phone CRM on the plane ride home.
What I have found most useful is entering those top contacts I meet into my phone right away. I love using Evernote Hello because I can connect with them instantly on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, view their profile, send them an email with my contact information and store them in my address book with a few clicks. I also like to use Cardful for Evernote (for iPhone) to scan business cards in my hotel room at the end of the night or on the plane. The free plan scans 30 business cards per month and the OCR is capable of scanning 300 cards in 1 hour. Evernote Hello is great for mapping when and where you met someone and including it in the contact notes. We have featured the Evernote bundle of apps several times. Click here to read those.
How do you network at conferences?
What about you? What tips or tricks can you share for being a friendlier networker at conferences? I’d love to hear your stories of success, failures, and pet peeves, so please leave a comment.