In this article, we’re going to share our top conference networking tips to help you maximize your ROI and get better results from attending conferences.
You don’t go on a job interview unprepared. You don’t go into a sales meeting unprepared. You don’t even go on a first date unprepared. So why would you go to a conference unprepared?
It’s quite simple – most attendees don’t think there’s much to prepare for.
Many become swooped up in the networking hype. The excitement of the big name speakers, the chance to finally get out of the office, the extravagant after parties, the opportunity to rub shoulders with the creme de la creme of your industry.
Well, I’m here to tell you something.
The absolute WORST thing you can do as a conference attendee is just “show up.”
In this article – I’ll explain how to master the art and science of conference networking, and how to extract real value from your conference experience. That includes a pre, during, and post conference game plan.
And yeah – it revolves a lot more than mindlessly sitting through speaker sessions with your laptop open while guzzling down ungodly amounts of coffee.
Recommended Read: The REAL Way to Convince Your Boss to Send You to a Conference
Why Are You Even At The Conference?
Before you even step foot into the venue, ask yourself: “What am I really doing here?”
Don’t be one of those people that comes to a conference, leaves and does nothing after.
Hopefully, you’re at the conference to ultimately learn something that will enable you to drive new, tangible results (or improve on existing results) in your business.
The improvement of results requires you to make change. Evoking change requires purposeful action. Following through on your actions requires accountability.
See where I’m going with this?
Just like everything else you do in business (and in life hopefully) – there should be a primary goal, perhaps followed by 1-2 more secondary goals.
Recommended Conference Goals
- To meet and make a lasting impression on an influencer.
- To sharpen my social skills; build confidence in my elevator pitch.
- To make a genuine connection with other practitioners in my field.
- To engage with a qualified lead who would find value in my service.
- To revive and reconnect with an old lead that went stale.
- To walk away with a minimum of 3 new tactics to implement.
- To change (or correct) a part of my process that is not optimized.
- To implement one experiment as a result of new knowledge gained.
- To discover new tools and technologies that can improve my process.
Now here’s the kicker. To see real tangible results, you have to track and measure everything that you do.
As a result of skill X learned (and implemented) from conference Y, outcome Z was achieved which had a quantifiable impact on my business.
Recommended Read: Mastering Network Sales
Pre-Conference Game Plan
Okay remember the part where I said don’t be unprepared? This is where I show you how to avoid that.
Recommended Video: Social Selling Before You Arrive
Step 1: Commit to Accountability
This is really a mindset shift. You’re telling yourself beforehand that you’re going to make meaningful connections, learn something new, try a few experiments, set goals for yourself, and impact change within your organization. Mentally preparing for what you want is key to achieving your desired outcomes.
Step 2: Map out whose going to be there, who you want to meet, why you want to meet them, and how you’re going to do it.
I learned this from Max Altschuler, but a week out from the event you should create an IMF list. It stands for impressive… yeah you get the rest.
Real-Life Example Of How I Do This:
Segment A – These are the saddest marketers, sales leaders, etc. who will be attending that you absolutely must make a connection with. Typically, these are highly influential people who have lots of folks nipping at their heels, so craft a purposeful engagement strategy here. Being lazy or trying the same outdated tactics as everyone else will just get you ignored.
Segment B – Then, make a separate list of people that have similar job titles and roles as you; essentially these are your peers. It’s always good to connect with your peers because you’ll get to share new ideas and meet like-minded individuals in a low-pressure setting.
Segment C – Last but certainly not least, make a leads list. This is the one rare time in life that you don’t need to cold call someone to make a connection. You can get that sweet sweet face-time that every business development ace dreams of.
Step 3: Engage with your targets on social media.
There’s no perfect science to this, but here are some tips that have been successful for me:
Engage on Facebook Event Groups / Pages – One of the simplest ways to engage your targets is to do a little research. Learn where they hang out online and be there. Facebook (and LinkedIn) groups are usually a great place to start.
Jump Into Relevant Twitter Threads – Make sure you do this gracefully. Add value to the discussion. Be meaningful with what you say here. Once you successfully make a positive interaction on Twitter (and they respond to you in some fashion) try a quick DM that says:
“Hey INFLUENCER X, noticed you’re speaking at CONFERENCE Y. I’ve been following your work for awhile now. Just a heads up, I’ll be there too and I’m really looking forward to your session. Would be great to catch up for a few minutes at the event. See you there!”
Get a Digital Intro – Have you heard of the “Show me you know me” approach? Well, let me tell you, it’s gold. All this consists of is using LinkedIn to find a mutual connection with the said person you want to meet, and having that mutual connection makes an intro for you via email or social media. Done deal.
Step 4: Try some good old fashioned email outreach.
The perfect email is still an art just as much as it is science, and it’s not dead by any means – you just gotta do it the right way. Use a catchy (not corny) subject line, make a strong case for yourself, leave one call to action, and keep it short and sweet.
Step 5: Experiment with Content Marketing.
If you’re a wordsmith of sorts, this might be one to try. Even if you’re not – who cares. Get creative and utilize video.
For example, you can publish an article on your personal LinkedIn that outlines what you’re excited for at the event, who you’d like to meet (and why) and also make the business case for why others should be there.
You’ll come across as someone who genuinely did their research and is on top of their game. This is always a good route to take if it plays to your strengths.
During The Conference Game Plan
This is where you start putting your prep work into action. Time to execute.
Step 1: Look The Part.
Straightforward right? Maybe for some, but for me I usually try to stand out by getting a very unique haircut or reflecting a stylish look that aligns to my personality. That said, you don’t want to misalign to your audience so do it with caution.
Step 2: Be Human With Your Icebreaker.
So, come here often? Yeah that’s not gonna do it. This part gets severely over analyzed. You don’t need some fancy line to start talking someone. All you need to do is introduce yourself and be a human.
This might sound basic, but it works for me. Ask a question. Go!
Hey what do you think of the sessions so far? Any topic in particular that you really enjoyed?
Then introduce yourself and get rolling.
Step 3: Avoid Business Cards (If You Can)
Think about this – when in life have you ever given a prospect or influencer your business card, and it’s actually led to something meaningful?
Chances are… never.
To me, business cards mean “If I hear from you then great. If not, oh well.”
Here’s what to do instead:
Take out your smart phone and have the person you engaged with plunk their contact information directly into an Evernote book.
This way, you remain in control, and are enabled to follow up with that person in a meaningful way.
Step 4: Pick The Right Timing To Engage.
Nothing worse than approaching an influencer to talk shop while they’re about to take a huge bite into their grilled chicken panini.
Another bad time to approach a speaker or influencer (or lead even) would be when they’re surrounded by other people who already want to talk to them.
Don’t cramp their style and crowd their space. Hang off to the side and wait until the commotion clears out, then approach gracefully.
You only get one first impression, don’t pick a bad time to leave one.
Step 5: Give Your Undivided Attention to Sessions That Are Most Relevant to Your Day to Day
We live in the age of digital distraction. The controversial headline that claimed humans now have the attention span of a goldfish may be an exaggeration, but to some degree our attention spans are definitely shrinking due to all the push notifications, emails, social media, etc.
That said, don’t be one of those people who come to a conference just to sit through sessions with your laptop open and catch up on emails.
Your company invested in you to be here. Take notes on the sessions that matter to you. Start thinking about how you can apply the insights into your day to day. Take pictures of cool slides and share it on social. be engaged and take something valuable away from what you’re learning.
Recommended Read: 26 Headliners on How to Engage With Influencers at a Conference
Post Conference Game Plan
This is where you reap what you sow. Where you harvest your crops, so to speak.
Step 1: Follow Up With Everyone You Met
Basic but not something to be overlooked. This is where you go back to your Evernote book and go through the list of folks you met and send them a thoughtful message.
Make sure your message is tailored specifically to them. Recall something you spoke about and mention it. Use your spidey-senses to gauge what the possible next steps could be.
Recommended Read: How to Follow Up in Sales Without Being Annoying
Step 2: Earn The Right To Ask For Something
The golden rule of life. If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this.
Offer value. Over and over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Always think of how you can add value to someone else’s bottom line before you ask them to add value to yours.
Earn the right to ask for something. Get respect and trust from those who might want to do business with you. That’s how you sell.
Step 3: Take 3 Things You Learned And Apply Them to Your Day to Day
What did you learn? Anything? Hopefully you did. Maybe new ways to prospect. Maybe you heard of a new tool to try. Maybe you saw a strategic blue print for aligning sales and marketing teams.
Whatever it is – pick at least 3 things and start experimenting.
Step 4: Host a Lunch & Learn to Report Back What You Learned
This will accomplish many things:
- Prove that you actually learned something.
- Share knowledge with team mates that couldn’t attend.
- Let’s your boss know that it was an investment worth making.
Wrapping It Up
This is where you take it all in and get ready to apply it! Do the work. No shortcuts here.
Also published on Medium.