Attending conferences can be a highlight of anyone’s professional career, especially considering they are opportunities to gather with hundreds, if not thousands, of likewise-focused individuals from all over the spectrum in your sector. After all, how often is it we get the chance to totally immerse ourselves in the newest innovations and philosophies of what we are committed to over the span of just a couple few days? But, the most important value of attending any conference is undoubtedly the opportunity to network in your field and make meaningful connections when you do it.
But I ask, why wait? If you know there is a conference you will be attending in the near future, why not set yourself up for success early by taking the following steps to preempt new connections and start networking even before the event?
Do your research.
The best way to get started on networking like a pro is simply studying the program. Note the names of the speakers who will be delivering talks you want to attend. Begin reading up on their body of work. In other words, delve into their content, which could include anything published and any podcasts or interviews available online that they feature in. Check out their websites and become a follower of their social media accounts. Also make note of any companies and organizations that may have representatives at stands and really any potential attendee you would hope to meet.
There is also immense benefit in discovering more about the general location of the conference. Chances are you will find interesting features, such as any new openings and the region’s best restaurants. Look out for any outdoor activities, cultural sites or museums available in the area. These can all make for potential talking points and, better yet, could serve as possible joint field trips to propose on the sidelines of the main event.
Plan for it.
Start by scheduling into your calendar all of the talks and events taking place at the conference that you might want to attend. You can color code each event according to topic or precedence and use an organization tool such as your Google Calendar, Calendly or Zapier to integrate all contact info. Social CRMs such as Getdex.com are great tools to organize info and alerts such as when to call or contact someone. Regardless of how you choose to file your info, you will want to have a system ready to be able to input contacts and follow up on them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Contact speakers and attendees early.
If there is someone you want to meet, then there is no better introduction than letting them know beforehand. Don’t leave a networking opportunity up to chance, as it may be hard to connect with others on the spot and especially difficult before and after they present. Contacting a speaker or fellow attendee early via an e-mail or social media message is a great way to start the networking process and give you more chances of actually getting noticed among the audience. Tell them the reason you are looking forward to attending their talk and compliment them on their work that has inspired the connection.
The same goes for potential attendees you would hope to meet. Why wait and see if they are actually going to attend? If you want to meet them, then just get the ball rolling and let them know. Ask if they will be attending, and see if you are interested in similar talks or activities in the program to create the opportunity to meet in person. If they don’t happen to be attending this particular event, then see if they do plan to go to any others. This way, you can use the opportunity to contact them again in a similar fashion, prior to the future event.
Schedule a meeting.
This is where that calendar you prepared of all talks and events scheduled in the conference program comes in handy. Because the next best step you can take to secure any networking opportunity is to actually schedule one. If there is someone you know you want to meet, then why not just bite the bullet and ask them to meet with you? Most anyone would welcome an invitation for a coffee, lunch or even dinner, especially if you say you heard it was the best in town!
Refer back to your research and see if you have any shared interests, such as surfing or golf, and look for commonalities, such as being vegan or having children. In other words, ask the potential new contact on a playdate in which you get to do something fun as a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the main event.
Host a party or adventure.
One of the best ways to remain memorable is to go big and actually organize a party. This can be in the form of a dinner with a select number of guests at an esteemed restaurant or a full-blown influencer party at the hippest venue in town. You could hire a guide and create a tour of a nearby historical site or maybe organize a moonlit boat trip. The choice is yours. But I do believe that if you bite the bullet and splurge on making new connections, then the rewards will be returned to you multifold.
There is no better feeling than having quality shared experiences with others. To do so, you just need to give some effort to help secure strong connections. The bottom line is showing your interest in others is the way to have people return it, which in essence is what the whole goal of networking is.
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