Seven ways to network efficiently at conferences

Conferences are a fantastic place to network. If you’re using a conference to network and meet people, then you need to spend more time meeting people rather than sitting quietly taking notes while you listen to the speaker.

Here’s how to get the most out of a conference:

1. Look for speaking opportunities

Speaking at conferences is a massive opportunity to build your personal brand and showcase your expertise. As a speaker at a conference, you’re afforded a special status – making meeting influential people easier. Very often, your status as a speaker means that attendees will go out of their way to talk to you and find out more about what you do.

2. Ask for an attendee list in advance

Go to any event or conference and you’ll see people huddled in corners checking the attendee list. If the first time you see the attendee list is actually on the morning of the conference, then you’re already at a disadvantage to the experienced networker. 

The way to increase the odds of having a good conversation with someone you want to meet is to contact them in advance of the conference and arrange to meet over lunch, a coffee break or a session that neither of you want to attend.

Always ask for the delegate list in advance of the conference – most hosts are normally happy to provide this on request – and use LinkedIn and Google searches to find contact details for the people you want to meet. Most people who are contacted in advance by other conference delegates are naturally flattered at the attention and pleased to have someone to talk to.

3. Don’t be late (or rush off early)

There is normally valuable networking time to be had before the formal part of the conference starts, and after the last formal session of the day. This is the time when you could be arranging to meet people for a longer conversation.

4. Engineer who you want to sit next to

When you sit down for lunch, a seminar, a master class or a presentation, you have a fabulous opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the person you’re sitting next too. Sitting with one of your colleagues is a waste of a good networking opportunity. Five minutes before a formal session starts, ask your host to introduce you to one of the people you have come to the event to meet. You then simply say “I’ve enjoyed our conversation, may I join you?”

If you’ve made the right impression, the answer will normally be “yes”, and you now have a huge opportunity to build upon your initial conversation and develop a deeper relationship during the formal event proceedings.

5. Organise your own event within the conference

There is no reason why you have stick slavishly to the formal agenda given to you at registration. Have you thought about organising your own dinner? Or hosting a discussion over lunch?

6. Ask questions

Many people shy away from asking questions in sessions. Having been a guest speaker, I know that speakers want to be asked questions by the audience. There’s nothing worse than finishing your presentation and no-one asks any questions!

Asking insightful questions based around an area of your expertise is a great way to get noticed by the entire audience. It also gives you something to talk about when someone comes up to you later and says, “That was an interesting question you asked”. When asking your question, make sure you remember to state your name, business and what you do clearly.

7. Follow up

Remember to send an email to all the people you’ve meet at the conference, and do follow up on your commitments to put some time in the diary to talk more. Also remember to add people on LinkedIn and start following them on Twitter.

What are your best tips? Leave them below.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks.

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