By Kawania H. Wooten CMP
When attending professional conferences, event pros find that effective networking can make their conference experience invaluable. So, here are some tips for networking success.
Before You Depart for the Conference —
- Set Your Conference Goals. Take some time to think about “what you want to get out of the conference — both personally and professionally.” If your primary goal is education, map out the conference agenda beforehand and plan your conference schedule. But, don’t discount the education you get in the hallway — Conference speakers will be enlightening, but I get my best and most valuable nuggets of information from fellow attendees during the refreshment breaks and receptions.
- Do a Little Prep Work. Research your fellow conference registrants — check out their web sites and social media pages. It’s important to your networking success to know who will be in attendance and details about their business and their expertise. If you are concerned that you won’t have anything to say when you meet your fellow attendees, think of some icebreaker questions to ask before you arrive at the conference. Then use them to ask questions of the people you meet.
- Pre-introduce Yourself. Determine whom you would like to get to know and reach out to them via e-mail or social media beforehand — or better yet, get an introduction from a mutual friend or colleague. Let the attendee know who you are, share why you are interested in meeting with him or her. Invite him or her for a 5 to 10-minute chat over coffee or a cocktail at the conference.
- Pack Your Suitcase Wisely. Review the agenda and pack clothes that are appropriate for each of the conference events. Also remember to pack plenty of business cards, your phone charger, a document listing the phone numbers for the credit cards in your possession during the conference, a miniature umbrella, comfortable shoes, some breath mints, and a pashmina (conference rooms can get really chilly). Your carry-on bag should include your drivers license and/or your passport, your flight itinerary, some business cards (just in case you network on the plane), your phone, your medication and your healthcare insurance card.
While You Are at the Conference —
- Don’t Fear the “Circle.” Have you ever walked into a networking event and you find that everyone is already chatting in little “circles?” It can be a little intimidating. Find a break in a circle and lean in. Then, wait for an opportunity to chime in with a comment that is relevant to the conversation. It will feel like you were a part of the conversation all along. And, in most cases, the “circle” participants won’t mind.
- Hang Out with Attendees You Don’t Know. It’s so easy to hang out with friends and coworkers, but there is no growth in that! Instead, expand your network by forcing yourself to sit at the breakfast table or the lunch table with attendees whom you have never met. Or better yet, seek out the wallflower standing alone — You might just become someone’s saving grace!
- Be Memorable. Consider wearing a “conversation starter” — a pretty pin, a great outfit, fun shoes or even a quirky pair of eyeglasses. But, don’t break the bank! A friendly personality and interesting business ideas will make a bigger impression than any article of clothing.
- It’s Okay to Be a Little “Star-Struck.” I have been planning weddings for eight years, and I still get a little “star struck” when I see fellow attendees whose work I enjoy and admire. If this happens to you, don’t be embarrassed about it. — Instead, take a deep breath and make a point of introducing yourself to them. And, remember to have a follow-up question or comment ready (i.e., “I loved that wedding you shot at the winery last fall”) — It helps with that awkward silence after the initial introduction.
- Ask Questions and Take Notes. When chatting with your fellow attendees, show interest in their business — Ask about their experiences and what’s going on in their area. People connect with others when they feel they have been heard. And, take good notes throughout the conference. You will meet new people, have several conversations, gain insights, and come up with new ideas. It would be a great loss if you didn’t capture them so that you could build upon them afterwards.
- Share Your Business Cards. But, don’t just walk up to people and hand them your business card — Unsolicited business cards are rarely kept by the recipient. Focus on connecting with your fellow attendees and speakers first.
When You Return Home —
- Follow Up. Networking at the conference doesn’t end once you get on the plane. During the next seven days, spend some time going through the conference materials and business cards you gathered. Reach out to the attendees you met and thank them for speaking with you. The conference will have a lasting impact—and be worth the time and money—if you turn your on-site conversations into lasting relationships.
So, what about you? Do you have any tips you can share?
Kawania Wooten is the principal consultant at Howerton+Wooten Events, LLC. Known to her friends and family as Kay, she uses artistic skills, her keen attention to the smallest details and her strong commitment to customer service as the hallmark of her business. As the founder of the company, Kawania strives for professionalism, creativity and impeccable organization within every function planned by Howerton+Wooten Events.