Networking Tips for Conferences

How to network at conferences?

Why this post?

I have attended several conferences around the world. (Hong Kong, Portland, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Delhi, Vienna, Paris, and more!)

Personally, I hold attending conferences in very high regard for development of your business or professional career. I also think that I have some useful things to say about effective networking in conferences. So here goes!

Conferences can give you huge Return of Investments

One of the best investments that you can make to grow your business/professional career is to attend conferences.

Reason? Because value of relationships can pay off over years and even decades!

That is why, the value of a conference cannot be gauged by money alone.

Yes, the cost of attending a conference can be significant. Typically, it will include conference fee + travel + accommodation + sight seeing. That can range from anywhere between ₹30,000 (USD 500) for local events to ₹300,000 (USD 5000) for international ones.

Sometimes the value might be serendipitous. You might try to sell your services, but end up learning something important.

Here are the top rules to maximise your ROI

  1. For you the conference begins before it begins: Ask the organisers for a list of participants in advance. Usually they provide you such a list at the venue, but they can send you via email too. Contact people on Social Media or via email before the conference! “Hey, I just noticed you are going to be at the XYZ Conference. I will be there too and …” You would have built a lasting relationship and just set yourself up for success!
  2. Reach the venue a day before the conference begins: If you are going to a conference and spend all that money, might as well pay for another night at the hotel. There is no benefit in showing how busy you are by arriving at the venue with a big suitcase. Get a good night’s sleep to be in a good mood!
  3. Reach the venue 30 min before the registration begins: One of the best time to “network” in a conference is before it even starts! Everyone is nervous. People you connect with right at the start will stay with you for the entire conference.
  4. Print a lot of visiting cards: It’s funny how often I have met people at conferences who forget to bring their visiting cards or were too ill-prepared to even get them printed. They are doomed to write their email addresses at the back of other people’s visiting cards. If you are in this category, likely this article is not even for you.
  5. Keep your visiting cards handy: I always keep a bunch of cards in my breast pocket, trouser pocket and the rest in my backpack. Try not to put visiting cards in your wallet because the printing gets smudged due to pressure. It is also very difficult to draw a card from your wallet while you sip coffee! Besides, when you are talking to someone, you don’t want to waste precious seconds looking for the card!
  6. Stop being obsessed about the food: This is my most important tip and there are several aspects to it.
    • It helps to have a clear mission about why you are attending the event. If its about enjoying the sunny beaches and food, then so be it. Feel free to enjoy. But, if you have spent your own money, chances are you are looking to promote yourself or your company or learn as much as possible.
    • While having coffee, don’t eat cookies, pastries or other accompaniments. You absolutely must keep one hand free to greet people and hand out cards! Not to mention keeping your mouth free for talking 😅. I will goto the extent of saying that if there is no seating, you shouldn’t eat at all! Coffee and lunch breaks are the only time you can network. It’s difficult to talk to people when sessions are going on. Eat last when the lunch is getting over and people are moving to the sessions!
    • When you talk to people during coffee/lunch breaks and they don’t have free hands to give/accept visiting cards, you should make a mental note and offer to meet them later to exchange cards! Another opportunity to seal a relationship.
  7. Walk up to people and say a clear ‘Hi!’ or ‘Hello!’ That’s it. Just one word is enough to start a conversation because everyone at conferences are open to meeting new people!
  8. Go over the attendee list if there is one and identify potential people you’d like to meet. This will increase your chances that you’ll actually find them. And when you do, you already know something about them!
  9. If the conference runs over multiple days, review the collected visiting cards the night before. Make a mental note of their names, what they looked like and what you talked about. This way, you’ll remember the names of people you met the day before. Hence, more trust and less awkwardness for you!
  10. Prepare and rehearse a pitch to introduce yourself in advance. It might be more efficient to prepare a 10-15 second intro about yourself than to say different things impromptu. Rehearsing your pitch will also make it more impactful.
  11. Ask questions and genuinely listen. Nobody likes people who only talk about themselves. Be conscious about whether you are overdoing the speaking part!
  12. Stand at exits just before a session ends. This will give you first dibs at talking to people who are making their way out of the room/hall.
  13. Pay attention to sessions too! It helps to talk to people and have context. Plus, there is learning!
  14. Post-conference follow ups are a must! Write individual personalised emails to everyone you met. Add them on LinkedIn if needed. Offer to schedule further meetings as necessary. This should be done immediately after the conference. Nobody will book a meeting with someone they met 3 months ago at a conference. Don’t be surprised that people who talked to you so warmly at a conference won’t even pick up your call after 2-weeks.

After the conference day is over, ideally you should be exhausted! But at the same time feel energised too for having invigorating conversations with potential buyers!

Please feel free to write in comments any tips and tricks I have missed. Happy to answer any questions posted in the comments too.

Thanks for reading this far. Wish you good fortune at conferences 😉