You spent a small fortune on networking events and conferences in your community, and you want to make sure you’re ready to get the return on that money via new contacts and possible sales prospects. Here are six ways to make sure you’re prepared to have the best conference experience.
1. Develop an Elevator Pitch
“What do you do?”
Expect it. You’ll hear it dozens of times at a conference, and it’s a very smart question. In a sea of new people, it sparks a conversation and the answer usually provides a lot of insight to the asker, especially to determine whether or not a conversation will follow. Yes, after answering it over and over you may be sick of saying the same thing, but if your answer is really interesting, you have the chance to really connect.
2. Print New Business Cards
How old are the business cards you have right now? Chances are they need a refresher. Before my last conference, the business cards I owned had my maiden name and were for a company I no longer worked for. When you’re networking, you’re going to be handing your cards out like crazy, so make sure to invest in something that visually represents your brand. The wording should be clear enough to read and the design strong enough to remember. If you’re a Lady Project member, don’t forget to use your Moo discount!
3. Connect Before the Conference Begins
Social media is driving conferences forward when it comes to networking between attendees. In most large events, attendees have access to conference hashtags, apps, or even Slack or Facebook groups to connect. Take part in the digital conversation and get to know some of your peers.
Don’t be afraid to break the ice, either. Someone has to be the first person to start the conversation. If you find the conference hashtags aren’t being used, start chatting. Ask questions of the presenters or conference staff.
Then, once people have started communicating, add the attendees to a list on Twitter. This will make it easier for you to read a current feed of conference events when the time finally comes. Similarly, if people are really conversing on Facebook and you don’t have time to digest everything, save conversations you want to come back to at a later time.
4. Schedule Coffee Dates
If you put in the effort to connect before the conference began or at the very beginning of it, you’ll have built a new group of prospective connections. Before the day of, reach out and ask them to coffee during a break or to meet in person for lunch. By this point, you’ve already nurtured the lead, so you’ll be able to dive deeper and build a personal relationship right away.
5. Be the Connector
There is no more powerful way to be remembered by your peers than to connect two people who can mutually benefit each other. For example, when I’m networking at a conference, I meet with many individuals whose business may need a content strategist at some point, but they don’t necessarily need my services right now. So, I have two choices. I can either consider that meeting a loss and move on to another person, or I can identify that person’s immediate need and suggest someone in my network would be a perfect fit to solve their issues.
Let’s say I’m talking to a graphic designer who is in desperate need of a new tax advisor. If I make the connection (and it’s a fit), both individuals will remember me for being the person who went out of her way to help grow their businesses. Who do you think they’ll consider when they do need help with their writing needs? Plus, they’ll be more likely to recommend me to one of their peers, regardless of whether we worked together directly. The same goes for whatever industry you’re currently working in. If you can be the person to make ideal connections, even if they don’t benefit you, you’re setting yourself up for success.
6. Follow Up Immediately
I’m usually exhausted after any conference I go to, and all I want to do is unplug for a few days before looking at any conference materials or contacting anyone I connected with. Bad idea. The most important thing you can do is to ride the momentum you’re feeling and reconnect immediately. If too much time goes by, you’ll forget the details of your original conversation, or worst, your lead might completely forget you.