How To Network With Influencers at a Conference
Attending a conference can be extremely beneficial when it comes to growing your business. The opportunities to network and connect with influencers are endless, and the benefits of solidifying a business relationship in person far outweigh the types of connections you can make online. But the unfortunate truth is that many people do not take full advantage of what a conference has to offer and end up returning home with no new contacts, and hardly any new valuable knowledge.
If at the end of a conference you find yourself with hardly any new leads or new relationships, don’t fret. Here are a few ways that you can make the most of your next conference and boost your networking potential.
The number one mistake people make when going to a conference or a networking event is attending it with their whole team. For some companies, this doesn’t prove to be a big issue because everyone in the team is independent and uses a divide and conquer strategy. In many cases, however, it’s easy to get trapped in the comfort of your own friends and coworkers. Rather than going to networking parties, you go out with your own team. Instead of doing the morning group walks, you sleep in with your team.
By sending only one person to a conference, or by attending alone, you have no option but to converse with others and learn about their business strategies. The benefit of attending a marketing conference, is that the vast majority of people there are outgoing by nature and are looking to meet new people as well, so you shouldn’t hesitate to approach them.
Make a Game of It
Nervous about walking up to a stranger and putting yourself out there? It’s normal. In fact according to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 18% of the population actually suffers from social anxiety.
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The fact is, introducing yourself to someone new can be a very daunting task. I like making a game of the networking process. Give yourself a quota of business cards you need to collect every day. I usually give myself a goal of 20, but that can be a bit much. Start by challenging yourself to meet 10 people on the first day, 15 on the second and 20 on the third day of the conference. You can also invite others to participate in this challenge with you, inspiring them to have fun with the networking experience as well.
Many conferences, such as the Inbound Marketing Conference hosted by Hubspot, or the Social Media Marketing World conference hosted by Social Media Examiner have an online schedule that you can access from your mobile device. Usually, these apps also list all of the confirmed attendees, or they at least have a Slack group to promote conversation among attendees.
Use these groups as tools for scheduling meet-ups and meetings with multiple people. The meetings don’t always need to be professional in nature. Chances are many attendees come from around the world and will be looking for an opportunity to sneak in some sight-seeing.
There are usually a couple of networking parties scheduled for attendees as well. Make it a point to attend these (and don’t be afraid to have a couple of swigs of liquid courage to make it easier). Find opportunities to talk to people about their work, and learn if they would be interested in any future collaborations or co-marketing initiatives. Ask people about past successes and fuel their egos a bit during these meet-ups.
Don’t Always Talk Business
Naturally at a conference your go to strategy is to talk business, but keep in mind that a lot of the individuals you meet have been networking all day and learning about various companies and business strategies. Instead, differentiate yourself from the crowd and steer away from the work banter. Legitimately try to get to know some people and build a friendship with them. After all, who are you more likely to trust and work with, a friend or a stranger?
Some of the best professional partnerships I’ve formed at conferences came from getting to know people on a more personal note. Don’t hesitate to ask individuals about their interests outside of the workplace. You might find out you share some common hobbies.
Although many conferences offer a wide selection of great breakout sessions, the fact remains that a lot of that information and guidance offered can be found in blog posts, podcasts and videos online. The best thing you can gain from an event is the networking possibilities. Take advantage of the opportunity to market yourself. No relationship is as valuable as one that has been solidified in person. When someone has met you and remembers your face, there is a much better chance that they will choose to open your email over the hundreds of faceless contacts in their inbox.