Conference season is upon us! September to November is prime conference season because companies are reviewing the previous year and planning for the new calendar year. Also, most fiscal years begin and end in the spring, so this is a great halfway point for budgeting.
With conferences, comes networking! Whether you are a fresh new face at your company or a seasoned pro in your industry, networking is a must at a conference! Networking truly is a skill, and you have to be on your game in situations like these. Even on your off days, these tips are great to fall back on!
Body language: Back to basics here! Shoulders back, keep your head up and smile. Put your business cards in an accessible pocket or in your purse – you will come off as a pro if you can get that transition down. Bonus: Keep your right hand free so you are always ready for a handshake.
What do I wear? Dress to impress… yourself! If you feel like you look good, you’re comfortable, and you fall under the dress code, your confidence and smile will come naturally. Usually conferences have a business casual feel – add a pop of colour so you stand out and people remember you!
Introducing yourself: Know your facts. You come across polished and professional if you are able to properly introduce yourself. It’s surprising how many people fumble over saying their name and job title. Practice saying your introduction a few different ways before you go, that way it will roll off the tongue naturally! “Hi! I’m Alyssa Waldes and I’m a Conference Planner at White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake!”
What do I say? Draw connections on the event, the speaker, the food, the industry – truly the options are endless. Your goal is to build a connection that is memorable. Relate to each other on your surroundings – don’t be afraid to laugh a little and have a good time.
To phone or not to phone? Using your phone at a conference can be an awesome tool to engage with other attendees, especially if there is a social media contest going on. With that said, be strategic on when and where you are using your phone. You do not want to discourage others from talking to you because you look closed off by being on your phone. We all use our phones as a clutch when we are nervous, because looking at your phone gives you an out and you feel less awkward. Try your best to stay off your phone in the situations you want to use it most!
Remembering names isn’t your strong suit? We ALL struggle with this! Want to impress your new contact? Remember their name. Do this by making a point to repeat their name as soon as you hear it – knowing you want to repeat it will direct your attention and you’ll be more likely to listen and remember it. If you miss that chance, no problem! Exchange business cards, and once you’re not in eye view, make a note on the back of their card with something that distinguishes them in your mind. You won’t forget them after that!
At a coffee break or reception: Try to pick items that are easy to eat, not heavily scented, and doesn’t lead to an embarrassing moment where you are trying to get sauce off your shirt for the next 10 minutes. Have a hand free, or stand near a ledge you can put your items down. This makes you more approachable, especially if you have a good spot people will want to join you! Planning a meeting of your own? Check out these coffee break tips!
At the bar: Now this one you need to feel out. Usually this is a great opportunity to be more casual which often takes the pressure off, and leads to great connections! Personally, some of the best connections I have made at a conference are at the bar during the event or after. This situation does need to be handled with care because it could go sour very quickly. Stay in control and keep your bearings.
Follow up: To properly close out your networking experience, you need to follow up with your new connections. Go through your business cards, find them on LinkedIn, and write a short message. Include a greeting, when/where you met, something that connects you and a hope for the future. Addressing those points in a short, simple way will make them remember you and want to keep in touch! For example:
“Hi Sam! It was great meeting you at the ABC Conference last week in Ohio. I still can’t get over those fruit displays! I look forward to staying in touch with you in the future ~ Alyssa.”
It’s all about who you know! Networking has led to countless opportunities around the world. Expand your network and make the most out of your conference!