Your handshake game may be a little rusty, but now is the time to brush up on your meet-and-greet skills. The personal conference circuit is heating up and business professionals are eager to reconnect at events specific to their industry. To get the most out of your conference attendance, you need to have a strategy.
While your company may cover the costs, business travel is a significant investment of time. If a networking event or conference is on your agenda, use these tips to plan your approach. Instead of clumsily muddling through, you slide into the great hall with confidence and a plan of action.
1. Do your homework
Sometimes you have to attend an event that is new to you. Other times, it’s a conference that’s been on your calendar for ages. Regardless of your fame, treat your presence as an assignment, because it is.
Despite their reputation for expense-funded steak dinners and late-night social events, industry events are indeed work. At least a week before your event, access the conference webpage, view the schedule and scan the list of sponsors.
Depending on the type of event, consider how your attendance compares to key topics and presentations. If you’ve signed up for breakout sessions, familiarize yourself with them and prepare a list of questions to ask.
In addition to coming up with questions, make sure you have your professional house in order. Brush up on your introduction and takeaways. Update your LinkedIn page, personal website and elevator pitch and tailor them all to your audience. Upgrade your business card by adding a QR code that allows the recipient to reach you in more ways.
2. Come up with a game plan before going to the registration table
If you’re lucky, there may be an event page on LinkedIn where registered attendees can get updates. See who interacted with conference information online and view their profile information. If they are a potential customer, add them to the list of people you want to connect with during the event. Your contact list can read like a scavenger hunt, except it yields valuable connections rather than a plastic trophy.
The last time I attended a conference, I noticed that one of my breakout sessions featured a panel on digital strategies. I wanted to make contacts who might be interested in growth marketingSo I started my research early. It didn’t take long before I knew who would be there, their background and their interests. This made my post-session outreach efforts much more fruitful.
If you are going to a panel session, make sure to arrive early and secure a seat in the front. Say hello and shake hands with the panel members and moderator. This is a courteous move, and it will make you more memorable. When it comes time to answer questions from the audience, yours will probably get the first nod. After that, you’ll feel much more comfortable hanging out sharing insights with the panel’s heavyweights thanks to the connection you’ve made ahead of time.
3. Follow up while you still have momentum
If you didn’t learn this in your early days of dating, it’s all about the follow-up. You don’t want to get confused after a great date, and similarly, you don’t want to be forgotten after a conference. Just as you have come up with a plan for attending and working the conference floor, you need to plan your follow-up strategy.
If you’re the analog type, keep notes on the back of business cards you collect along the way. Write down what you talked about, what you committed to, and anything unique about the encounter. Anything that makes your note stand out among the many post-event “We met at X conference” emails is something to write down.
If you have a digital preference, use a notes app or add this information to the person’s entry in your phone’s saved contacts. Add links, photos, and other meaningful information to enrich your data. If you’re attending a multi-day event, add something to your networking list every night to make the process easy to manage.
Please try to follow up within two business days of the event. Conferences can demand a lot from people, both mentally and physically. Give everyone time to rest, but not enough to forget you. Express your sincere thanks for the time you spent with your new contacts at the event and pass on all the information you promised. By providing value, you forge connections that are rewarding.
Create relationships that are mutually beneficial
You already know that business isn’t just about you, it’s about relationships. Try to understand what your contacts need, even if they can’t articulate it yet. Find ways to be helpful, even if it’s not directly related to closing a sale.
The more you can prove that you are a trusted source, the more likely your new contacts will show you in a positive light. When you offer help without obligation, your potential customers will keep their doors open for you. And when it’s time to pitch an opportunity, the strategy you’ve developed ahead of time will help you get your “yes.”