How Strategic Networking Can Deliver Big Results at Your Next Conference
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The best entrepreneurs I know spend a lot of time learning new things to improve their perspectives and themselves. They listen to podcasts, read books, and seek advice from others.
They also make conference attendance priority. Trade associations and educational opportunities offer a unique opportunity to not only dig deep into your organization but also to connect with others. I have found the greatest benefits from those connections. Intentional networking has resulted in integral customer relationships and exponential value for my businesses.
Conferences can be a powerful way to gain insights that could apply to your company. But they can also serve other purposes. These are the three ways I learned to network in conference settings like a pro:
1. Come prepared
Strategic and intentional networking is nothing without a plan. Think
when preparing for a conference.
What types of connections are you hoping to make?
What problems are affecting your business, and how can this conference help address those?
What are your goals for attending the conference? Education? What is brand awareness?
Is your brand message ready?
Who are the key people I want to meet? How do I approach them?
Should I attend every session possible, or try to secure one-on-one meetings with important vendors and mentors?
Make sure your elevator pitch is ready before you start. Research has shown that brands often create content for their own needs and desires, ultimately failing to listen to what their audience really wants. Your brand message is the first impression potential connections have of your organization at a conference. It should be about what they need and want, not about you.
Next, consider your goals for attending the conference. Do you want to network? Education? Both? If you are using the event to learn, plan out the sessions you would like to attend and ask the presenter questions. Even a learning experience can serve as a basis for networking. After the talk, take time to introduce yourself. Invite them to a coffee party to discuss a specific topic.
If you’re hoping to make it more of a networking event only, check out booth exhibitors in advance and prepare for after-hours events like happy hours or hosted gatherings produced by sponsors. You can get on the attendee list if you are able to.
If there aren’t any events after-conference, plan your own event and invite key contacts. You’ll not only build your network, but you’ll also be able to introduce others. A proactive game plan will help you maximize your conference experience.
2. Look for connection opportunities
*)Conferences offer many opportunities to grow and learn as professionals. From sharing challenges to best practices, the value of others’ experiences cannot be understated.
However, this knowledge can also be gained in a less formal environment. Often, important and meaningful conversations can take place outside of a conference setting, at social hours or group dinners, and even in networking halls.
The point is to be open to opportunities as they arise. Intentional networking fosters open dialogue and encourages important conversation in a more relaxed environment. You can learn more about your brand and strategy by meeting with people one-on-one.
There have been multiple opportunities at conferences where I have found large sponsors for SubSummit, simply by being present during break times or at after hours events. You never know when an opportunity might present itself.
3. Overcome your fear of failure
As you try to make connections, there will be occasions when a potential deal does not materialize. It’s part of the business of running a company. You shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Instead, it should be motivating you and empowering you to learn from the missed opportunity.
Maybe it’s your elevator pitch. How can you improve your message to make a bigger impact in networking? Maybe it’s not the right time to ask them to sponsor your event, or invest in your venture. What can you do to make them remember you when they are ready?
Failure is inevitable — so embrace it, and move forward. Failing is worse than never trying.
Networking in a conference setting gives your brand a face and energy, it builds community and develops connections. Conferences are a great place to foster growth for your company. You can make your event participation more than just Zoom meetings or being at the office.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.