There are two types of networking at conferences and tradeshows – forced and fake, or natural and authentic. The best and most fruitful networking happens when business professionals use a targeted and savvy approach, aligning networking efforts with your current and future goals. There’s no point filling up contact lists with individuals or businesses that aren’t good networking fits – so don’t.
Instead, use these tips for networking strategies that create lasting and loyal relationships, and that yield rewarding results down the road.
Strategies for Networking At Conferences
We go to industry-relevant conferences and corporate events to learn more, meet some of our most admired industry leaders and to teach others some of the helpful approaches, techniques or suggestions that helped us grow along the way. We also attend conferences to network.
Make reservations in the event hotel ASAP
It’s easy to forget, however, that networking should start long before the event takes place. Waiting to rub elbows with key professionals or personalities at the event can mean missing out if their calendar is already filled up by eager networkers who got started beforehand.
By making your reservations at the venue’s hotel, odds are that you’ll be “living” with the event hosts, keynote speakers, targeted presenters and other important personalities on your “face time” wish list. It also makes it easier for you to invite them for a pre- or post-event coffee, drink or meal.
Connect with your “contact wish list” beforehand
Along those same lines of connecting before the conference, use email, or their most active social media account to express your interest weeks in advance. Explain who you are and your interest in them, their work, their product(s), etc., that you’ll be attending the “Conference of a Lifetime” on such-and-such date, and your wish to connect with them there.
While a meal invite may be too strong at this point, your value-laden ice breaker is already doing its work to pave the way for more personalized engagement at the conference. Once there, social media accounts catalyze networking efforts allowing you to share info about the sessions you attend, let people know where you are headed next and to tag people you’ve met or hope to meet.
Be available without hovering
There’s a fine line between making yourself available to connect and hovering to the point of stalker-worthy suspicion. Do integrate yourself in the same spaces your networking targets are circulating, but don’t hover to the point that you make him/her nervous. Similarly, you never want to seem like an over-eager fan.
Instead, find a way to get in on the conversation or keep an eye out from elsewhere in the room/space and casually (seemingly accidentally) intercept them when they exit their current group or conversation. This leads to a more natural approach. Then, make sure you have a starting phrase or question ready.
Finally, if you’re a conference presenter, making yourself available also includes providing the right visuals so others know how to reach you. Make sure your brand’s logo, colors, and contact information are displayed obviously on your presentation screen, the podium and any literature handed out so others can easily assess how to connect with you.
Be open to those who want to network with you
Networking is a two-way street. Remember that you may be a target for others who want to learn more about you and your company. So, don’t be so focused on your networking targets that you close off to others. Be open and approachable for those interested in networking with you – and you never know what windows or doors those connections may open for you.
Ready to Network at a Tradeshow?
Conference networking is typically more subtle than tradeshow networking because there are stated presenters and events – and an audience of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people flocking to them.
Networking at tradeshows requires a bolder effort. Tradeshows are all about education, demonstration and sales, and that means plenty of opportunities to show off who you are via banners, posters, displays, and signage.
Decide whether hosting or attending makes more sense
The sad reality is that most tradeshows are extremely expensive endeavors. Make sure you’ve crunched all the numbers before deciding to be a presenter – knowing that you may not get the high-quality leads you were expecting. Sometimes, networking makes the most sense as a tradeshow attendee because your ability to connect with other attendees and prospects in a more personal way is more realistic.
Start communicating early
Like conference networking, it’s a good idea to start early – even months before the event – letting key targets know you’ll be there. Continue providing information about your booth, where you’ll be, any relevant events, demos or training sessions they may like to attend. This primes the pumps ahead of time and makes it easier to find a space on their agenda.
Invest in incredible signage
Visual impact is invaluable at tradeshows. The large majority of attendees won’t have done much homework at all and will simply mill about, drawn to the catchiest and most visually appealing presentations. The portable displays, banner stands, hop ups, table runners and other aspects of your tradeshow display should be impeccably designed and produced, so attendees and passersby are left with a favorable – and memorable impression. Remember that comfortable seating, snacks and something to drink also entice attendees to linger.
Tradeshows are overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose sight of your networking targets if you haven’t strategized. Establish who some of your ideal networking targets are and reach out ahead of time to schedule meetings with them. Since tradeshows are typically noisy and chaotic, it may be worth finding a quiet venue to connect.
Are you heading to a conference or tradeshow in the next several months? SpeedPro East Bay is here to help you design impactful signage and display products that help your ideal networking prospects find you amidst the competition. Contact us today at (510) 246-8643 to get started on your project.