While networking can occasionally seem daunting, it can help further your career. Event schedules are usually busy so it’s best to approach conferences with a plan and keep a few things in mind throughout.
1. Plan your meetings
Identify the people you’d like to meet before you arrive by looking through the speaker roster. Social media can also be a helpful tool to identify the influencers with whom you’d like to connect; look for the event hashtag and see who is leading the conversation online.
The truth is, most of the other attendees are also looking for networking opportunities, so don’t be shy. Get in contact with your target attendees ahead of time to suggest catching up for a coffee between sessions. Attending the presentations of speakers you’d like to meet also offers an opportunity to connect afterward. And be prepared to jot down a few notes during each session or meeting. It will prove to that person you were really paying attention and make any follow up you do much more meaningful.
2. Embrace social media
Being active on social media — LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and any other tools popular in your area of work — helps build your conference network by making your attendance at the event visible to others. It can be an excellent tool to introduce yourself to those you’d like to meet and to be seen leading the conversation.
It’s also a good idea to use official conference hashtags which increase the likelihood that your tweet or post will be seen by attendees and shared by organisers.
3. Add value
Networking is a two way street that should benefit both parties. Don’t head into a conference thinking solely of what you can gain and what your new connections will be able to do for you. Asking for favours and endorsements without adding you own value will quickly see your new contacts walk away.
If you’re asking for an introduction or for the valuable time of an industry leader, make sure you can offer something in return, whether that be a unique insight or position on a certain topic, an introduction you may be able to make for them, or a professional skill from which they could benefit. This value add is usually the best reason to follow-up post conference.
4. Be your own brand ambassador
You’re representing your organisation, so make sure you can talk about what you do confidently. If you work for a smaller or lesser known entity, be able to describe its purpose, what it does, its unique expertise and your role within it eloquently and succinctly. Know who your customers are, who your partners are, and the primary challenges and opportunities for your organisation in the year ahead.
5. Follow up
This is one of the most important steps in networking, which too few people remember. Following up after the conference or industry event turns the people you’ve met into meaningful contacts and, ideally, ongoing and mutually beneficial relationships.
Send a personalised note to important contacts within one week of the event either on email or LinkedIn, depending on which is most appropriate for your area. Thank them for their time, remind them of the reciprocal value you can offer, and invite them for coffee.
This article was first published by our sister publication SmartCompany.