Corporate organisations are spending thousands of dollars every year attending national and international conventions, seminars and conferences. Could they be missing out on valuable networking opportunities at these events purely through lack of planning?
Some of the most valuable networking happens in the most informal situations. So, be prepared!
Here are a few tips:
Prior to the conference:
- Remember to take plenty of your business cards. If you are running low on cards, order more now, don’t be caught short. Check with the organisers, how many people are attending. Work out how many people you assume you will meet and have a quality conversation with, the number of exhibitors who may ask for your contact details and then allow another ten cards or so, for the unexpected.
- Take a small pile of blank cards with you. You will find a number of good contacts who may have forgotten to take their cards or have run out. Don’t miss an opportunity to follow up with these people. Give them one of your blank cards to write their contact details, email address, etc.
- Include a highlight pen in your conference pack. Use this to highlight on your program the breakout sessions you wish to attend, important starting times, etc. If you are fortunate enough to be given a list of attendees, highlight those you wish to make contact with. The clearer you are on the outcomes you want, the more chance you have of achieving them.
- If it is an international conference, remember your camera. It is far easier to have a photographic reminder of the people you meet, sit with at dinner, attend excursions with, etc., than committing everything to memory.
When you do develop the photos, have two for one prints made and send a copy of the photo to the other delegates you have met. Always include your name and contact details(preferably on a sticker) on the back of the photos and date of the event. It is surprising how often these photographs can help to cement an international negotiation. Be seen, get known, move ahead.
- Remember to change your voice-mail or pager message advising that you will be unavailable for the length of the conference. Leave an urgent venue contact number for anything that is truly urgent.
- Take a brightly coloured action plan. Aim to write action bullet points as they come to you during the event. If you don’t write them down, it is possible you will forget them.
At the conference:
- Where possible, arrive early for all sessions. This will give you an opportunity to plan where you will sit, speak to other delegates prior to the speakers commencing and meet more people.If you arrive just in time, or late, you will have little opportunity to network other than to nod to the person you eventually sit beside.
- Select a well lit, central location that will become a “meeting place” for interesting people you meet, strangers you want to get to know a little better and a great spot for crowd watching. When you meet new people, you may suggest to them that they join you for a coffee/drink at this meeting place at the end of the session, prior to excursions, etc. Often people wander around aimlessly wishing they had the opportunity to connect with others during the down time/free time at the conference. Basically, act like the host and not the guest!
- Attend as many of the social events for the conference as possible. Some of the best contacts you will make may happen in the relaxed atmosphere of a cocktail party or barbeque.
- At conference meal times – aim to sit with a different group at each sitting and preferably people you don’t know. Avoid sitting with people from your own organisation at the meal times and during the sessions. Catch up for a 10 minute debrief at the end of the day. . . you have plenty of time to see them back at the office. Move out of your comfort zone.
And, finally, enjoy yourself and remember to always follow up with the people you meet.