24 Tips for How To Network at a Conference (With Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 17, 2022

Published April 17, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Networking is a great way for people to develop professional relationships and improve career prospects by generating connections in their field. Conferences are useful tools for meeting like-minded people in the industry and expanding professional networks. Learning more about networking at industry conferences can help you develop the skills to build meaningful connections with those around you.

In this article, we list the benefits of networking and offer 24 tips for how to network at a conference.

Benefits of networking at a conference

Networking is a great way to meet others in your field or industry. Conferences are a great place for networking because they include a host of networking benefits, including:

  • Strengthening previous connections: Conferences are a great place to build and improve existing professional relationships.

  • Improving career prospects: You might learn about potential job opportunities or meet people with whom you can collaborate professionally at a conference.

  • Finding new business: Conferences often lead to developing new customer and client relationships.

  • Developing soft skills: Communication, presentation and time management are all skills you can develop by attending conferences.

  • Learning about the industry: Presenters or attendees may have information about industry-wide changes or forecasts that can help shape your work.

  • Identifying potential mentors: You could meet a fellow attendee willing to mentor you and assist in your career development.

  • Utilizing resources: Conferences often provide resources through workshops and forums for developing specific business practices.

Related: 40 Questions To Ask at Networking Events

How to network at a conference

Prepare for your next conference using these steps to meet new people, develop existing connections and improve your career trajectory:

1. Have goals

Know what you want to achieve by attending the conference. If you're seeking a mentor, consider the qualities you want in a potential guide. If you're hoping to find a new position, think about the company you'd like to work for or the job you want to hold. Developing these goals before you attend the event can help you create an efficient strategy.

Related: 10 Tips To Help You Network Like a Pro

2. Stay on site

Most conferences take place in large hotels or conference centers with attached accommodations. If possible, stay on site or in the conference-recommended lodging. You may be more likely to meet people and have informal interactions and relationship-building opportunities than if you stay elsewhere.

3. Conduct your research

Learn about presenters, attendees and workshops before the conference. Decide which events you're most interested in attending, which companies you hope to learn about and the attendees you want to meet. Researching ahead of time can help you use your time effectively at the conference and show that you're serious about building strong professional relationships.

Related: How To Prepare for a Conference

4. Make your presence known

Before you get to the conference, follow the conference on social media and connect with fellow attendees digitally. Just as you want to know who else may be attending the conference, others may be wondering if you or your company may be there. Connecting ahead of time online makes in-person conversation at the actual event easier and less nerve-wracking. Try to create many opportunities for people to connect with you digitally or in person, before, during or after the conference.

5. Be confident

When approaching a fellow attendee at the conference, try to be confident. Walk up to them with a smile and a friendly salutation. Introduce yourself and explain why you're interested in connecting with them specifically. They may appreciate the ease with which you started the conversation and feel comfortable talking with you.

Related: 16 Exercises To Boost Your Confidence

6. Prepare conversation starters

Consider preparing a list of conversation starters before arriving at the conference. Meeting new people is much easier when you have a specific topic to discuss that relates to both of you. Here are a few great conference conversation starters:

  • Why did you choose this workshop?

  • Have you been to this conference before?

  • Did you enjoy the keynote speaker?

  • What's the most interesting idea you've heard today?

  • Are you working on anything unusual right now?

Related: 10 Conversation Starters for Networking and Relationship Building

7. Remain present

While your focus may be on approaching new people, fellow attendees might be doing the same with you. Stay present at the conference by putting your phone and tablet away when possible. A possible new connection is more likely to approach you if you're not texting or emailing.

8. Consider unexpected connections

Know who you're most interested in connecting with before you arrive at the conference, but be open to meeting anyone who wants to talk with you. You never know who you might meet, what connections they bring, or what career opportunities they might offer. In general, try to connect with as many people as possible during the conference.

9. Have a plan

Create a schedule for the conference to use your time efficiently. Select workshops, presentations or forums ahead of time and then build your schedule from there. Schedule time for meeting new people, building on current connections and learning about the industry.

10. Use social media

Often, conferences will have a website and social media presence. Use these tools to help schedule your time and connect with other attendees in the digital space. You might meet someone online you'd like to have a conversation with in person.

11. Look at name tags

Conference name tags often include the person's name and company. Use the name tags to identify people and companies you're interested in meeting. Greet new people by name or ask them about their business to get the conversation started and personalize your interaction.

12. Attend all the activities

Use your time wisely and attend as many activities and events, both formal and informal, as you can. Besides scheduled conference events, get lunch with fellow attendees, meet up for dinner following the last seminar of the day and get morning coffee the next day. Informal connections help build and develop professional networks.

13. Create an exit strategy

Some conversations may continue for longer than you expected. Have a few exit strategies or closing statements prepared that you can use to end a conversation politely. Here are a few to consider:

  • It was nice talking to you. Enjoy the rest of the conference!

  • Please excuse me. I have to check in with my partner.

  • Do you know where the bathroom is?

  • Do you have a business card?

  • Let's get coffee next week.

14. Download specialized apps

Some conferences, particularly large ones, have their own proprietary apps to help attendees navigate the many events and activities at the conference. Use the app to ensure you're optimizing the conference and not missing any presentations or other events. This ensure you remain efficient with your time.

15. Bring your items

Carry a small bag or briefcase with you during the day that has a notebook, pen, business cards, water, snacks and anything else you might need. Keeping your daily necessities with you ensures you'll be able to make the most of your time at the conference. It can also help you avoid unnecessary trips to your room.

16. Employ business cards

Bring your business cards to the conference and distribute them to the people you meet. Business cards are often the best and easiest way to share your information with new connections. Write a personal note on the card before presenting it to your new connection to ensure they remember you.

Related: 6 Tips for Networking Business Cards

17. Write a pitch

If you're hoping to find a new position or earn new business, prepare a pitch before the conference starts. It should be brief, just a sentence or two, to see if the person or company is interested in what you have to offer. Preparing and practicing ahead of time can increase your confidence and the ease with which you pitch at the conference.

Related: How To Write a Pitch Step by Step

18. Offer help

Consider offering help to others rather than exclusively asking others how they can help you. Ask what you can do to assist a new connection with meeting others at the conference. You can also offer your expertise in completing work projects or reaching business goals.

19. Take notes

You might meet hundreds of people over the course of a multi-day conference. Take notes throughout the day to help you remember who you met, what ideas interested you and any other important takeaways from the conference. This can help you use that information once you're back home.

Related: How To Take Notes

20. Schedule breaks

While you may want to develop as many professional connections as possible, it's also important to schedule breaks to avoid fatigue or burnout. Consider taking time for small breaks throughout the conference to gather your thoughts. You can also take this time to prepare for the next session or interaction.

Related: How To Organize a Schedule

21. Act genuinely

Act professionally, but also try to be honest and genuine about your goals and intentions. You can show that you're genuine by providing industry anecdotes or honestly describing your ideas. This can help you connect with other passionate professionals in your field.

22. Don't ignore the conference format

In some cases, you may attend an online conference or one that offers both in-person and online events. Try to make the most of the format and its unique advantages. For example, an online conference may offer the ability to connect with those all over the world, while an in-person event may include the chance to physically interact. Learn about the format of the conference before it begins and develop strategies to create personal, meaningful interactions no matter the venue.

Related: Virtual Meetings: A Definitive Guide

23. Personalize conversations

Keep your conversations professional, but feel free to add small personal touches to make the interaction enjoyable and meaningful. For example, you can ask a connection where they're from and briefly discuss their favorite activities in their hometown. If you have any personal connections with your conversation partner, you can also discuss your shared interests.

24. Ask questions

Treat a conference as an opportunity to learn more about subjects you enjoy in your field. While you can present yourself as an expert whenever possible, you can also seek those whose knowledge you find interesting. Ask questions about their work and their unique perspective in your field.

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