Prepare icebreakersMany people are uncomfortable making small talk with strangers. To reduce the tension, you can prepare some conversation starters:
- Read up on the conference topics and materials This way you will feel more engaged during the event, and will have relevant insights to share with other attendees.
- If you are attending sessions at the event, note down some interesting points to discuss with your peers. For example: has any other retailer present used beacons activating the loyalty app? Have they seen any results in terms of loyalty and returning customers?
Research key attendees you’d like to meetYou will never manage to talk to everyone present at the event – that would be a lot of work, and it would get boring very quickly. Start by deciding what you want to achieve with your networking (Do you want to scout for new opportunities? Meet new business partners? Forge international alliances?). Then pick the names you are interested in meeting before you even get there. As events are now shared through social media pages, it’s easy to get a list of attendees. Look at the LinkedIn pages of the people you would like to meet, and find a hook: do you have a common acquaintance, who can introduce you - and perhaps even set up a meeting at the event? Even if you have no common connections, you can still get some useful info that you’ll be able to use as an icebreaker: do you have a common interest? Have you worked for the same company? Have you lived in the same town? Due to what psychologists call the “similarity attraction effect”, it’s easier to bond with strangers if you point out things you have in common.
Dress for the occasionIt’s hard to concentrate on chatting (and making a good impression) while wearing an uncomfortable outfit - a shirt that pulls and tugs, or tight new shoes. If you want to impress, you need to first make sure that you are at ease. Don’t feel obliged to overdress; rather, choose a comfortable outfit that makes you feel confident and successful.
Connect with the speakersIf you don’t know anybody and find it hard to approach people, the easiest way to make interesting new acquaintances is to interact with the speakers whose sessions you have enjoyed. Approach them after listening to their session, ask thoughtful questions and bring insightful observations (this should come easy if you have paid attention during the presentation). Chances are the speakers will then be able to introduce you to more attendees, making networking easier and more relaxed.
Be interested and interestingIf you plan to make meaningful connections remember to be authentic. Networking should not be about self-promotion, or selling your company’s business.
- Be interested: ask questions, and listen with full attention – isn’t it annoying when someone asks you a question, and then listens distractedly while looking around the room, searching for bigger fish to arrive? Make sure to remember the names of the people you have been speaking to, and if you have promised to follow up with information, do so within the next two to three days – if you wait any longer, you will look uninterested and disrespectful.
- Be interesting: Don’t be afraid to be different, and talk about original subjects. If you have done your research on other attendees, you could use common hobbies or other hooks to set yourself apart from the others. Even if you don’t know anything about the person in front of you, try to avoid impersonal subjects (this means no weather talk!): first encounters which include a personal element (such as original conversation on uncommon topics or personal experiences) are much more memorable.