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.
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.
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.
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.
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.