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Conference Networking

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One of the hardest things for some bloggers, living at home, by themselves is to force themselves to be social. Others are lucky, and they crave the social connections that going to conferences require. I am not one of them. I have to force myself to approach people I have never met and create a dialog with them.

Since I am at Mesh Conference currently, I figured it would be a great time to talk about conference based networking, and some tips that I have for surviving it.

Stay Calm
I know this seems like common sense, but I find myself having a fair bit of anxiety when I am alone in a room filled with people and I have to reach out and shake hands. Reminding myself to stay calm actually helps. You have to remember that many of the people are there for the same reason you are: networking and enjoying the conference. They are probably hoping that someone will introduce themselves.

It never hurts to have some tissue in your right hand pocket if you are a sweaty palm person.

Smile
People will approach you if you put a smile on your face. I don’t mean a crazy “I’m going to eat you” fake smile that many people do when they are nervous, but instead think of something that makes you happy or something silly which will make you have a real smile. This comforts those around you and makes you more approachable.

Don’t Cross Your Arms
Crossing your arms shows a body language that says “stay away!” This is very counterproductive, but I understand why people do it. I feel more comfortable when my arms are crossed, but if you want to network, you have to be approachable, and good body language can be key.

Handshake
When you introduce yourself to someone, stick out your hand. Most likely you will get a handshake out of it, and that is a physical connection. People are more likely to remember you if you touch them. Be ready to slide out of the handshake if they don’t respond to your advances. Some people don’t feel comfortable touching strangers.

Trade Business Cards
This is the key to basic first level networking. If it doesn’t seem like you are going to get a huge amount of their time, make sure you trade business cards with them. This will most likely provide you with contact information, and if you have made a good impression, you’ll want to make sure that they have your information. It also seems professional.

It can be hard to find the right time to trade cards, but if there is a lull in the conversation, or if they are interested in you or your company, pulling one out can get you a trade. You don’t have to make it a huge deal in your conversation or meeting. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get one back. Some people forget their cards, or have a limited amount. Some people are just business card collectors.

Schedule a Meeting
If the conversation is going really well, and you want to talk with them more, ask them if they’d be willing to meet for coffee sometime, or if they attend any local events where you can have another chance to talk with them.

Try to confirm a date before the end of the conversation, but don’t feel snubbed if it doesn’t seem like it is working out.

E-Mail
If you really want to connect with someone again, it doesn’t hurt to send them a quick e-mail mentioning that your opinion on the conference, as well as how great it was to meet the person. This will remind them that you still exist, and also make them feel special or worthwhile. This can lead to further conversations.

Conference networking is very much like any other type of networking, but you have a wide pool of people to connect with at one place and time, allowing you to increase your odds of meeting someone you can have a relationship with.

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Comments

  1. Gary King says: 5/30/2007

    Ah. So THIS is where I know you from.

    Reply

  2. Charles Stricklin says: 5/30/2007

    These are all very good tips, and all coming in time for me to use them at WordCamp and the New Media Expo.

    You might not be able to tell, but I tend to get anxious when I’m speaking publicly or around people I don’t know well, or sometimes just large groups of people, and when I get anxious, I say stupid things.

    So, thanks for the tips! I’ll print them out and read them as I lock up the hotel room and head to the conferences.

    Reply

  3. tanya says: 5/30/2007

    Thanks for the tips because I sure needed them – not for blogging conferences specifically, but for other types as well. Would love to see more posts on this. I have a conference at the end of July and I am already thinking about how to not stay in my hotel room like always. I have decided to set quantitative goals – like giving out xx business cards total or per day; collecting xx cards daily. Going out to dinner with at least 1 new person each day of the conference, or sitting at a table with people I don’t know – I’m hoping to overcome the nerves and shyness.

    Reply

  4. Alan says: 5/30/2007

    Great post. I also have trouble in a room full of strangers at conferences and expos. I’ll be a real estate expos this weekend in Orlando so your tips came at the right time!

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  5. Dan Chase says: 6/2/2007

    I overcame my conference shyness several years ago by hanging around the conference committee staff. They are there to help attendees and so are understanding of the lack of comfort some feel in large groups or in approaching and meeting strangers. I joined that conference staff and have been part of the presentation committee for six years now–and I present every year! I love speaking to groups now, and people now approach me as I’m recognizable as a familiar face at the conference and as a speaker. Having dinner with a couple familiar faces helps so you can have a ‘base’ to come back to after reaching out. I still have the occasional butterfly though…

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  6. Mark Marston says: 11/12/2007

    Regarding conference business cards:
    I just returned from what is billed as the biggest online media and marketing convention in the world. AdTech at the New York Hilton. As an exhibitor who sells a really nice laminated style picture business card, I may be a little biased, but here is my networking advice: Put your picture on your business card. The worst business card in the world is the one where at the end of the day, your card looks just like everyone else’s. There were plenty of people that I really wanted to remember their product or service but their card was of NO help in recalling our conversation. Like an old song that brings back lyrics you thought you couldn’t possibly remember, the human face is an instant trigger for what is already stored in the memory. Don’t worry about whether you’re good looking enough. The benefits could be tremendous and your card will never look just like everyone else’s if your picture is on it. Just get a decent picture taken and do it.
    Here comes the shameless plug: …and if you want a picture style card that often prompts a “Wow” comment, check out ReferralBusinessCards.com. Our customers tell us the most common response when they hand out one of our business cards is, “Wow! That’s a nice card! Can I keep it?”
    http://www.referralbusinesscards.com

    Reply

  7. sohbet says: 7/23/2008

    You might not be able to tell, but I tend to get anxious when I’m speaking publicly or around people I don’t know well, or sometimes just large groups of people, and when I get anxious, I say stupid things

    Reply

  8. Dr Vidy Potdar says: 6/20/2010

    Nice article David. I would like to add a few of my own tips. What I also do is Pre-Conference Preperation and Pre-conference networking. By preconference prepearation I mean I make a list of people with whom I want to network during the conference and by preconference networking I refer to sending email to potential contacts with whom I am going to network. This helps me a lot and I think it would be of great interest to the community here too.

    Reply

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