Career Development

How To Effectively Network at a Conference

February 22, 2021

Networking is a great way for people to develop professional relationships and improve career prospects. Conferences are useful tools for meeting like-minded people in the industry and expanding professional networks. Successful networkers use a variety of tactics to make the most out of professional conferences. In this article, we explain why networking at a conference is so important and how to do it sucessfully.

Related: 10 Conversation Starters for Networking and Relationship Building

Why is it important to network at a conference?

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

  • Build on connections: Conferences are a great place to build and strengthen existing professional relationships.
  • Improve career prospects: You might learn about potential job opportunities or meet people with whom you can collaborate professionally at a conference.
  • Find new business: Conferences often lead to developing new customer and client relationships.
  • Develop soft skills: Communication, presentation and time management are all skills you can develop by attending conferences.
  • Learn about the industry: Presenters or other attendees may have information about industry-wide changes or forecasts that can help shape your work.
  • Identify potential mentors: You could meet a fellow attendee willing to mentor you and assist in your career development.
  • Utilize 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.
  2. Stay on-site.
  3. Do your research.
  4. Make your presence known.
  5. Be confident.
  6. Prepare conversation starters.
  7. Stay present.
  8. Be open.
  9. Have a plan.
  10. Use social media.
  11. Look at nametags.
  12. Attend all the activities.
  13. Prepare an exit strategy.
  14. Use any apps.
  15. Bring your items.
  16. Have business cards.
  17. Prepare a pitch.
  18. Make offers.
  19. Take notes.

Related: 10 Tips to Help You Network Like a Pro

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.

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're more likely to meet people and have informal interactions and relationship-building opportunities than if you stay elsewhere.

3. Do your research

Learn about presenters, attendees and workshops before the conference. Decide which events you're most interested in attending, which attendees you want to meet and which companies you hope to connect with. Researching ahead of time can help you use your time effectively at the conference.

4. Make your presence known

Before you get to the conference, follow the conference hashtag and connect with fellow attendees on social media. Just as you want to know who else will be attending the conference, others may be wondering if you or your company will be there. Connecting ahead of time online makes in-person conversation at the actual event much easier.

5. Be confident

When approaching a fellow attendee at the conference, 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'll appreciate the ease with which you started the conversation.

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?

7. Stay 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 than if you are.

8. Be open

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 might bring or what career opportunities they might be aware of.

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. Block 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 and talking with. Greet new people by name or ask them about their business to get the conversation started.

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 grab morning coffee the next day. Informal connections help build and develop professional networks.

13. Prepare 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. Use any 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 getting the most out of the conference and not missing any presentations or other events.

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 and avoid unnecessary trips to your room.

16. Have business cards

Bring your business cards to the conference and hand them out 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.

17. Prepare 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 will increase your confidence and the ease with which you pitch at the conference.

18. Make offers

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, work projects or any other useful support you can provide.

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 to help you use that information once you're back home.

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