How to Make Networking Events Not Suck
from Hobby Blogger to Business Blogger
Truth be told, I used to really hate networking events. In fact, as a self-described shy extrovert, I found them really challenging. I considered networking events a necessary evil and really struggled with what to say to people as a traditional “elevator pitch” always felt forced and awkward. In fact, I would spend so much time worrying about what I would say to people that I neglected to actually set goals for the event or really prepare in advance. In a nutshell, networking events sucked.
In getting ready for our presentation at the 2017 BlogPaws conference, Bryn Nowell from A Dog Walks into a Bar and I wanted to share our strategies for how to approach networking events and conferences to maximize your efforts and help you at least feel more comfortable, organized and prepared.
7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Next Conference or Networking Event
1. Stop thinking of a networking event as a sales opportunity.
Seriously. Take the pressure off yourself. This is not about “closing the deal” or selling your brand or services. Unless you are a sponsor of the event with a booth in the exhibit hall, your purpose is relationship building. (Frankly, even if you do have a booth, we would argue that your primary goal is promoting awareness and establishing connections with attendees.)
Think of generating sales as a bonus.
2. Do some research into who is sponsoring and attending the event in advance.
Most times the list of sponsors and vendors is readily available and often you can even see the list of fellow attendees depending on the registration platform. Make a list of the folks you would like to connect with while at the conference and be very clear about why you want to connect. (See number three below before shooting off that first email)
If there are a few people you know you really want to meet with during the event, send a very quick, low-pressure email in advance along the lines of:
Dear brand x,
I’m excited to see that you will be at X Conference next month. I am a huge fan of (or I am really interested in learning more about) your X product.
I know how busy these events can be but I’m hoping to have a chance to speak with you directly during the event. I arrive on X date and would love to schedule a time in advance to sit down with you for a few minutes if your schedule allows. If not, I will make sure to introduce myself at your booth during the conference.
Looking forward to connecting in person,
Also, keep in mind that time is limited, there’s a lot going on and that not every brand will be a match for you so target your efforts.
(Download our handy Conference Contact Manager to help you stay organized)
3. Be Clear on Brand Match
This is critical. Before you reach out to a brand or a fellow attendee, ask yourself three questions:
Why am I really interested in connecting with this brand or this person? Are they aligned with my mission?
What do I want to know about them? What are some genuine questions I have for them about their company or brand?
Why would they be interested in working with or connecting with me and my brand or service?
Again, this is not about selling yourself. This is about making genuine and authentic connections without focusing on whether they lead to a sale, a blog sponsorship, product testing, etc.
4. Reconnect with friends, colleagues and even brands you already know.
A week or two in advance of the event, send out a few targeted emails to a few brand reps or people you already know telling them that you would like to reconnect during the conference even for a quick coffee chat.
5. If this is your first time at this event, step outside your comfort zone.
If you struggle with these types of large events, keep in mind that you are not alone. I promise! While many folks may already know one another, many more will know no one or just a handful of people. It’s easier said than done sometimes but do not be afraid to reach out to others at the conference. Ask if you can sit at a table with others or strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at a session. A simple, “Hello. My name is Alison. This looks like it’s going to be an interesting session” or “What other sessions have you/are you attending?” can break the ice.
You could even use the same approach described in number two above and reach out to a few colleagues or fellow blogger attendees saying that you enjoy their work/posts and would love to connect at the conference. Some conferences even have newbie tracks or pre-conference connection groups for first time attendees. Having a few familiar faces you can connect with will ease any awkwardness that can arise during these types of events.
6. Proper Conference Etiquette When Interacting with Brands, Speakers or Other Attendees.
Don’t interrupt. Whether you see someone talking to a brand rep or a speaker, or even two attendees talking, be respectful of the conversation. Hang back and wait until they finish the conversation or invite you to join in.
Don’t monopolize On the flip side of not interrupting, especially when talking to brand reps or speakers, be respectful of others and of the time. Conferences are busy and everyone wants an opportunity to speak with the brands, sponsors and speakers so make sure that you aren’t bogarting the brands.
Similarly, if you are feeling monopolized, it is perfectly acceptable to say to someone, “I’ve enjoyed talking with you and hearing about what you do. I’m going to go use the rest room and mingle a bit. Enjoy your next session.”
Be courteous and kind. First, try to be present when in conversation. There is often so much going and for those of us who struggle with sensory overload, it can be a challenge to stay focused but try to remain present in a conversation. It’s okay to let folks know when you need to step into the hall if the room is getting to loud.
If you see someone standing alone looking lost or uncomfortable, say “hello” and ask them how they are enjoying the conference. You are not obligated to be their buddy for the rest of the event but it’s kind to make people feel seen.
7. Have a “giving” mindset.
As mentioned above, approaching these events with a sales mentality will not usually generate the types of connections or outcomes you desire. However, if you approach your interactions, with individuals or brands, with a genuine desire to learn about the other person or the company and with the mindset of “how can I help?” I think you’ll be surprised by the connections that you make and how fortuitous some of those connections can be in helping you achieve your own goals.
Preparation can really help ease anxiety when heading to conferences and networking events. We want your next conference experience to shine, not suck!
What tips would you add for making conferences and networking events fun and worthwhile?