Most business people start their networking at the event, this is like arriving at a business meeting with a potential client having not thought about what they want to achieve from the meeting. Treat all conferences and networking events as if you have the potential to land your biggest contract. You will miss many opportunities if you do not plan and prepare prior to any conference networking event.
The first thing to remember is that it is not a day off – it is a day on, you want to walk away from the conference event with the relevant insight, knowledge and connections that will help you to drive your business forward. If you do not think you are going to gain any of these benefits then you should not leave your desk.
Unless you plan to miss-out on opportunities, arrive at the networking event or conference with a game plan. A conference event is an opportunity to meet important connections when they are not guarded by their gate-keepers and inundated with meetings. You must have a game plan and start two to four weeks before the event. Here is your guide to making the most of your event.
Pre-Conference Action Planning
Set your goals and objective.
- What do you want to achieve?
- Who do you want to meet?
- What information do you need?
To make your networking conference event net-winning, create a list of actions to complete before the event, such as:
- Review the conference agenda to structure your action plan around.
- Scan the delegate list.
- LinkedIn with personal connection mentioning the forthcoming conference.
- If there is an industry leader you need to meet, ensure you attend their session and request a meeting with them at the conference. “Hello XX I look forward to your session at xx, I would be interested to discuss (quantum physics) with you let me know if you have 15 minutes for a coffee”.
- Find out who is attending and make arrangements to have a coffee. There is nothing better than face to face interaction. Allow time to network with your peers, connect with prospects, or touch base with customers, at the conference.
- Follow and engage in the conference hashtag and make yourself visible to others who may want to meet you.
- Even if there is no possibility of meeting some key connections, this is a great reference post conference such as, “sorry we did not manage to have a coffee during the conference; are you available next week?”
- Get organised: Divert your calls and set your out of office notification and clear you diary for post conference follow-up.
- Pack your chargers, business cards, demo brochures, pens, audio record and notebook (digital or otherwise).
- Some of these conference venues are large, cold and concrete under foot, so dress smart, wear layers and comfortable shoes. I always carry a bottle of water in my bag.
- Arrive early and register before the queues, familiarise yourself with the conference venue layout and attend the keynote presentations.
- If you are attending with another colleague divide and conquer the conference programme and meet for lunch.
- Get to a seat early so you can introduce yourself to the people you are sitting with, avoid ‘what do you do?’ rather “have you heard xx speaker before?” or “what objectives do you have for this conference?” I have connected with emanated people and won business from conversations I had with strangers I happened to be sitting next to.
- There is nothing like face to face interaction, however, the conference is an information gathering and networking opportunity and not a problem solving forum, so connect in a meaningful way with as many people as possible so you can follow-up post event.
- Be social and participate in the larger conversations during the event, make sure you are using the #hashtag and tag relevant people properly.
- House-keeping: Do not push your business card wait for a request, however, every business card you collect reference your conversation. At every session jot down your conversations, your follow-ups and your insights so that when you follow through and are able to reference the headline context, source and bullet point insights. Evernote is a great app for this.
- During session of industry leaders – promote their session and quote their words on social media and tag them in, this is a great way to get on their radar.
- If you gain qualified prospects you need to follow up within a few days of the event. Better still, send out an acknowledgement on the day perhaps over lunch. “Great meeting you XX, I will send you the report / connect your with XX when I get back to my desk. Enjoy the rest of the conference.” Copy yourself in the notice as a reminder.
Post event follow-up is critical to ensure you get the results you want and deserve. Do not wait for the dust to settle and the conversations to be a distant memory before you follow up. You cannot wait for your contacts to connect with you, you are not their priority. Industry stats suggest that a staggering 75% of leads are not followed up after an event. Do not become a statistic!
- Follow-up is essential, it’s where your connections become engagements and your intentions become contracts. Follow-up is not a one-time activity. Find and send relevant content based on your conversation, if the first attempt is not successful. Remember like you they have come back to a 100 emails and telephone messages so diarise your follow-ups. If you are at a two day event expect to spend two days to follow up.
- Connect with the people you met at the conference the following day, sending a LinkedIn request with a personal reference to your conference conversation.
- If you managed to get on the radar of an industry influencer, connect and direct message your introduction, do not sell or ask them to do anything rather comment on their inspiring presentation and then continue to follow their conversation and comment with relevant contributions.
- Review, reflect and discuss with your team the insights gained at the conference and the actions created from the experience.
- Networking at a conference may be the beginning of your relationship building journey so do not rush towards a conclusion, let the conversation develop and grow. Look for opportunities to add value without expecting anything in turn. Let the power of reciprocity work for you.
- To succeed at conference networking and business development you must put as much effort into pre and post event execution. Good luck and have fun.