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The “Get It!” Guide to Networking at Conferences

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again (including right now):

Networking is an essential part of finding success as an entrepreneur.

Why? Because it’s about who you know.

Without a doubt, networking is your lifeline when it comes to moving forward and and finding success in the hard hustle world of entrepreneurship. There are tons of cliche catch phrases and idioms for this:

Help me help you.

One hand washes the other.

It takes a village.

Different people excel in different skills. Even if you have the talent to do it all, there are only 24 hours in a day and you do need to fit in eating, sleeping, and having a life somewhere in there. Trying to handle everything yourself is the fastest way to burnout.

Granted, you may already be a superstar at networking one on one - it’s something that comes up pretty regularly and chatting with one person is easy enough. But how do you network in a conference setting, where there are dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people all doing the same thing? It’s overwhelming and requires a slightly more strategic approach than those intimate networking mixers.

So what’s the key to making a lasting impression? Just follow these tips and you’ll be a smooth, efficient, networking pro!

Do your research.

It’s all about knowing your crowd so be sure to study up on the speakers and companies that will be in attendance. Use this knowledge as an effective icebreaker to make an immediate connection with these individuals (in a non-creepy way). For example, ask them about a recent event of theirs or discuss how your values and mission statements align and take it from there. This shows others that you are genuinely interested in them and their business and that you’re not just there to push your own agenda.

Remember: networking is all about give and take!

Have business cards.

Obvious, right? It doesn’t matter how digital we are - there’s something to be said about a good quality, physical business card. It leaves an impression that just can’t be achieved through swapping email addresses or connecting on LinkedIn. This is also an opportunity for you to make an impact so that the other person remembers you. Aside from having the standard name, title, and contact information, think about what else you can add to your cards to really stand out from the crowd.

Here are a couple of ways you can take your card from average to amazing:

  • Toss the flimsy white rectangles that scream 1992 and experiment with a unique cut or paper. If you’re in the luxury market, for example, it’s in your best interest to invest in quality paper and printing to demonstrate that you adhere to high standards.

  • Create cards that are multipurpose. Some printing companies offer cards that double as a flash drive, which could be a great way to give someone a little example of your work (plus who doesn’t like having an extra flash drive lying around?).

Remember: Your card is an extension of you and your brand and should communicate that.

Perfect your elevator pitch.

When you’re at a conference, the one question you’ll hear on repeat is: “What do you do?”

Nail your elevator pitch because that question gives you the perfect opening to build your contact list. Add personality to the pitch and take into consideration the way you normally speak - you might write the perfect 3 sentence pitch on paper but it could sound really unnatural coming out of your mouth. Also think about whether or not there’s any flair you can add to really make it stick in the person’s mind. Something surprising, or even a little humorous, will make it more likely that you are remembered!

Take notes.

For every business card you hand out, you’ll likely receive one in return. Keep a pen on you and jot down notes on the cards as you get them so you’re not scratching your head later on, trying to remember if it was David or Diane who mentioned an upcoming business trip to your home town.

Good things to make note of include any rapport you had. Did you talk sports? What’s their favorite team? These notes come in handy when you follow up with your new connections because they show you paid attention to them as a person and cared enough to take an interest in them, and not just their business or what they can do for you.

Be respectful of time.

Think about how you want to utilize your time at the conference and remember that the speakers and attendees probably want the same thing. Everyone’s there for a reason. Be respectful of this and don’t monopolize anyone’s time, no matter how interesting the conversation. Introduce yourself, give your elevator pitch, build a little rapport and move on. You will make a better impression if you keep it short and sweet, plus it saves something for the follow-up conversation.

Keep it about them.

While it’s tempting to want to talk about yourself and share your ideas when you’re in front of people who have already done what you’ve done, try to resist the urge the urge. Not only will you be able to learn more from listening to others who have been in your shoes but, as mentioned earlier, it shows that you have an interest in making a genuine connection, not just helping yourself out.

And the last bit of advice?

Focus on creating those genuine connections.

Don’t just go around conferences with the goal of handing out a stack of your business cards to everyone you see and meet. After all, the personal connection is what makes you memorable, not a piece of cardstock.

Do you have additional networking tips? Leave a comment below.

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