Conference season is upon us. Let’s talk about networking. I’m Angie from Team Lucky Break, and I’m here to share my top 5 conference networking tips.
Surprisingly, many people don’t really know how to network. Seems simple right? Just go and talk to people! I hate to break it to you my friend, but networking is so much more than being friendly and bubbly. It’s about making meaningful connections in a sea of people. Many don’t realize that to successfully network, you need to have a strategy in place. I’m here to help you take the guesswork out of strategic conference networking.
Top 5 Conference Networking Tips
I’ve gone to dozens, if not hundreds of networking events, conferences, trade shows, and business mixers. Some were for my business, bobo design studio, a lot more were for my previous roles in media and advertising. Doesn’t’ matter the content of the show, the rules are the same.
I’ve outlined five simple conference networking tips that I’ve learned over the years that will make you a smarter, more strategic attendee at your next big event. To help illustrate how one would implement these techniques, we’ll follow along with a hypothetical brand owner named Lucky who designs and creates her own line of adorable dog-themed stickers and stationery.
Industry shows, conferences, and networking events aren’t cheap. You have to pay for a ticket to attend. Many groups have annual dues or membership fees, therefore, you have to pay in order to even be invited to an event. Maybe you had to travel far and cover your accommodations and expenses? Cha-Ching! Either way, it is surprising to me how many people will fork over buttloads of cash and have no goal in place for the event they are attending. Friend, you need to walk away with more than a swag bag after a high-priced conference.
Think about why you are attending. Determine what you want to get out of it. Highlight 2-3 goals that you want to achieve while you are there.
Lucky is going to her all-time favorite networking event, Craftcation. It’s the most fun any business owner can have at a conference. However, she also needs to walk away with something for her business that has ROI and will help her grow her brand. Example goals for her will be to:
- Learn something new- Lucky could look at the list of workshops and enroll in a Pinterest or Email Marketing talk to help her grow her visibility.
- Connect with Complimentary Brands- She could seek out artists that would do cool stuff with her stationery and possibly be influencers. She could seek out a brand owner that makes cool dog clothes. She’s not looking for competitors, but people who could mutually benefit from a partnership
Know who Is going to be there
Once you have your goals outlined, then you know exactly what and who to look for. You’ve now taken this super daunting 5-day conference with hundreds of people and now narrowed your focus on tackling the people that matter the most to you and align with your goals. This is a helpful exercise for those who are timid with networking. Knowing you don’t have to talk to everyone helps to calm the nerves.
So how do you find out who is going? Many conferences will have a special closed Facebook group for conference attendees to connect and ask questions before an event. Some shows will even post a roster with contact information, albeit that is a bit of an old school approach. The big thing now is apps. Conferences will have their own app where attendees can see the show schedule, build user profiles, and even chat. Don’t forget to see who the sponsors are too. Don’t be afraid to get in front of a rep for a brand that is a sponsor. They have spent a lot of money to attend a conference with folks like you!
Lucky knows she wants to meet with dog people. So she’ll pop in the closed Facebook Group for Craftcation that is moderated for conference attendees. Here she introduces herself and her brand and can put a call out to folks who are within her scope and see if they want to grab a drink at the show.
Oh, low and behold… people who she might not have considered as potential leads have chimed in too! “I don’t have a brand, and I’m just going to Craftcation because I wanted a little craft vacation. But I am a director at a local Dog Rescue in LA. I’d love to chat!”
Book Meetings in Advance if possible
If you are engaging in the forums and or have an app where you can connect with people directly, don’t be shy about pinging them and seeing if they will have time in their schedule to meet for 5 minutes. Remember, they are there to network too. If there is a mutual benefit then they will be open to connecting.
Lucky found out that she’s going to be taking the train in with a bunch of other attendees from the thread she posted in. She quickly organized a little meet up on the ride over to chat. Not only has she found “her people,” which makes networking way more comfortable, but she found a way to connect with them that does not impose on the event schedule they might have planned and outlined in advance.
Have your Talk Track Ready
You’d be surprised how many people struggle with the question “What do you do?” You don’t want to be that person who doesn’t know how to answer or doesn’t answer it with authority. Saying “I’m a designer?” does not bode a lot of confidence for the other party you are speaking with. In addition, a 15-minute monologue about how you quit school and moved back home to find yourself and then realized your passion for dog-themed rubber stamps and stickers doesn’t look good either.
Since you already know who and the types of people you want to talk to, focus on that. Keep it short and concise and practice saying it out loud. You want to be able to say it in your sleep without even thinking.
When Lucky gets approached at Craftcation, she can tell people, “Hi, I’m Lucky., and I’m the founder and designer of Good Boi which is based out of LA. I create dog themed stationery for puppy fanatics.” In 25 words, she’s made it very clear who she is and what she does.
This one is the most crucial. Next to “setting goals” it’s also the one that is often forgotten. Make sure you follow up with your contacts. Email, text, use the show app or forums, find them on Instagram. Whatever it takes to reconnect, be sure to do it, and have an action plan in place for your follow up to determine next steps.
Lucky had a great interaction with the gal from the Dog Rescue. In her email follow up, she said she’d love to connect and see how they can work together on an upcoming campaign. She offers ideas like a partnership giving fun care packages of Good Boi stationery and stamps to folks who adopt a dog. She finds a way to continue to peak interest with concrete ideas and sets a follow-up meeting if the timing is right.
Lucky not only had the best time at Craftcation, but more importantly, she also made some lasting connections that could prove to have ROI down the road.
Conference Survival Kit
And while we went over my top 5 tips, you should know that I am an overachiever so I’m gonna throw in some extra credit knowledge for funsies.
I always carry a trade show/conference survival kit. It includes:
-portable phone charger and cable
And these final two items….
–mini notebook to jot notes. Of all the dozens or even hundreds of cards you collect at a given show or event, you won’t want to keep track of all of them. For the connections that I know I will want to follow up with later, I like to jot notes on the card itself, or even better, shove them into a notebook and write down what about our connection resonated with me so I can remember 7 days out who to follow up with and over what topics.
–extra zippered pouch.- Sometimes jotting down notes is even too difficult to do. So I’ll keep one empty zippered pouch and separate the cards for those who are the most important to follow up with, and all the other cards go into my purse or badge holder. This way, I have my own quick reference of the meaningful connections and contact info.
Conference networking can be hard. By dissecting how you approach an event into manageable chunks, you can be more strategic, have a better outcome, and hopefully see the investment pay back over time so you can attend more (and collect more free swag!).
Do the pics in this post give you FOMO? These photos are courtesy of Dear Handmade Life and photographer Heather Shane from the 2018 conference. f you want to learn more about Craftcation, be sure to check them out at Dear Handmade Life. And if you are attending in 2019, come and wave us down for a hug, high five, and a cocktail!