Conferences and exhibitions provide organisations with an excellent opportunity to expand their network of suppliers, clients and partners. However, cultivating these relationships in the hustle and bustle of an industry event can be a challenge.
Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, mastering the art of networking is a vital skill for making the most of networking opportunities at events.
So what are some of the best ways to prepare for such events? Here are seven tips to have the highest chance of networking success at your next conference or exhibition:
1. Do your homework in advance
Event organisers will often release a list of the speakers and organisations due to attend, giving you a sneak preview of who you may want to contact when you get there.
In fact, you may even want to reach out to other delegates ahead of time so that you can guarantee meeting up on the day.
2. Focus on them
Networking should be about building a relationship, so avoid simply promoting your services to everyone you meet. A robotic sales pitch is unlikely to inspire people to keep in touch.
Make the conversation about them, and show interest in their business needs and objectives. This helps them to remain engaged and encourages them to remember you.
3. Remember body language
Confident and relaxed body language is key to ensuring people feel comfortable in your company. Remember to smile, shake hands where appropriate and maintain eye contact.
Meeting and greeting can be a nerve-racking experience for some, but the more you act the part, the quicker you’ll get into the flow of things.
4. Arrive early
Being fashionably late to a party may be desirable, but it is unlikely to help when trying to maximise networking opportunities.
At the start of a conference, people are much less likely to have formed groups and with fewer attendees you may get the chance to have longer, more fruitful conversations.
Try booking a hotel as close to the conference as possible, even if it is more expensive, as this will give you the maximum amount of face time each day.
5. Offer interesting questions (and memorable replies)
Many people fall into the trap of asking mundane, repetitive questions at conferences that can make a conversation instantly forgettable once the event is over.
This is where previous research can help, as it enables you to ask questions that relate to a person’s specific industry or department and the challenges they face.
Similarly, make sure to provide memorable replies to questions you’re asked in return. A particularly detailed or quirky response is much more likely to add a spark of interest or humour to the conversation.
6. Use business cards effectively
Everyone knows to bring business cards to a conference, but making the best use of them is easier said than done.
Simply handing out a card to as many people as possible is unlikely to result in strong, long-lasting relationships. It is important to establish these connections before exchanging details.
You may not want to hand out many cards at all, instead focusing on controlling incoming cards so that you can concentrate on contacting the right people after the event.
7. Make sure to follow up
Conferences can pass by in a blur, over which time you may meet dozens of people. However, it is vital that you follow up on initial contacts.
Developing relationships over email and social media is a good way to get started, although your messages can easily be ignored.
If this is the case, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Also, avoid only following up when you need something.