Business conferences and trade shows are an important part of your job. They don’t just provide you with necessary education to make you better at your job; they are also great opportunities for fruitful connections, which can lead to new business and career opportunities.
For this reason, you may feel great pressure to make the most out of the conferences you attend –you need to listen to lectures, discuss your business, and meet as many people as you can. For some of us, the mere thought of having to mingle with strangers is uncomfortable; the added pressure of having to transform the chit chat into valuable business connections makes the whole story an ordeal.
But it doesn’t need to be.
If the boss saying “You! Are going to the conference” makes you excited, but also worried you may not make the most of it, fear no more. As our yearly conference and Expo conneXion Rome approaches, we want to share with all our attendees our six top tips on how to be well prepared and make the most out of attending a networking event.
Many 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 meet
You 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 occasion
It’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 speakers
If 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 interesting
If 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.
Don’t be afraid to recharge
For many people, networking can be hard work: you can only be charming, smiling, chatting and carefully listening for so long. If you get tired or uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to take a break. It’s better to have fewer, high-quality interactions, than hanging around bored and tired. If you are shy and don’t want to risk retiring to your room too early, you could set yourself a target – say, meeting five new people. Once you have reached that goal, you can reward yourself with some well-deserved relaxation in your hotel room.
If you are like me, now that you have a plan you can let go of your worries, and start getting excited about the prospect of going to the event. You might even – gasp! – actually have fun at the event; and that would be fine. As the Harvard Business Review wisely stated, it’s ok if going to a conference doesn’t feel like real work! You are attending to get inspired, energized, and stimulated to go ahead with new ideas – all the stuff you don’t usually get on a normal day at the office.
We are looking forward to seeing you at conneXion – get ready for some serious inspiration, networking, and fun!