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February 26, 2020

Don’t Just Show Up! 19 Hacks for Conference Networking Success.

At this time of year, firms throughout our industry are gearing up for Spring conferences – Quirk’s, IIeX, Qual360, AAPOR, NEXT, plus scores of smaller regional and vertical events. They’re preparing to spend hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars to send a couple of their key personnel to a few of these events to learn and network. Will it be worth? Often… it’s not.

So, to be sure you get maximum ROI from the conferences you’ll be attending, here are 19 hacks to help in your preparation:

4+ weeks BEFORE the Conference

  1. Order business cards; make sure you’ve got plenty of them get to you through ‘conference season.’
  2. Review last year’s attendee list; if you can get hold of one – either online or directly from the event producer – see what companies might be represented at the event this year.
  3. Schedule appointments; reach out to your clients and prospects that you find out will also be attending the event and invite them to schedule an appointment to meet while you’re both there; showing up and hoping you’ll both be available to connect inevitably leads to disappointment.
Reach out in advance to clients & prospects that will also be at the event and invite them to schedule an appointment to meet there; showing up and hoping you’ll both be available to connect inevitably leads to disappointment. Click To Tweet
  1. Spruce up/practice your Elevator Pitch; get beyond the boring and unmemorable ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do’; enhance it by talking about the types of clients you help, what you do for them and how your firm is unique.
  2. Promote your presence; mention it in the weeks leading up to the event in social posts, in your monthly enewsletter and in your email signature.
  3. Schedule extra days in town; since you’ve already bought a plane ticket, why not spend an extra day or two (before or after the event) to meet in-person with clients and sales prospects in that city?

2 weeks BEFORE the Conference

  1. Review the conference schedule; scope out ahead of time the sessions you want to sit in on and put them on your calendar so you don’t miss them.
  2. Review the exhibitor list; likewise, check out the exhibitor list ahead of time and mark off the ones you’d like to meet while you’re there; exhibitors are the best source of new tools and technologies, so block off some ‘exhibits’ time, too.
  3. Split up responsibilities; you’re likely going to the conference with a colleague or two. Make sure you split up when attending conference sessions, having lunch and attending networking events. It doubles or triples your chance of success!
  4. Update your LinkedIn Profile; if you connect with any potential buyers, one of the first things they’ll do after the conference is look you up on LinkedIn; make sure your profile is top-notch.
  5. Download the conference app; if the event offers some sort of app, download it ahead of time and get comfortable using it.

DURING the Conference

  1. Logos; consider wearing logo’d apparel or a company pin to reinforce your brand and – in many cases – help to initiate conversations with people who will come up to you when they recognize your logo.
  2. Attend all social and networking events; yes, you’ll be tired in the evening, but make sure you don’t miss any social/networking events; “People do business with people they like,” and chatting over a cocktail is a great way to start that ‘relationship.’
  3. Take detailed notes (critical!); don’t just swap business cards when networking… you’ll never remember all of those conversations when you get home; instead, use a little notebook or your iPhone to scribble down everything you can remember from every encounter; you’ll use this info to execute more effective follow-up (#19).
  4. Be a stalker (by the coffee); most events have a coffee station or a room with snacks for attendees; these are great places to ‘loiter’ and meet people because almost everyone at the event will stop by these locations a couple of times.
  5. Cell phones off! What you don’t want is to have a really good conversation with a prospective buyer interrupted by your silly ring-tone.

AFTER the Conference

  1. Debrief with your team; as soon as you get back to the office, gather your team together to discuss the event, review event plusses & minuses and decide if you should attend again next year.
  2. LinkedIn; reach out to everyone you met at the conference and invite them to connect on LinkedIn, but please – don’t use the generic invitation note than comes with LinkedIn, mention something relevant from the conference.
  3. Follow-up smartly; this is where the ‘rubber meets the road’; go back and review all of your notes (#14) so you can craft targeted, custom follow-up notes to those sales leads; otherwise your follow-up notes are just generic drivel, like 95% of all other vendors.

One final comment… attending and networking at industry conferences is hard work… you’re on your feet much of the day, you always have to have your “game face” on and you participate in scores of brief conversations where you have to properly represent your firm. So, please remember to “Have some fun!” Relax… unwind… and enjoy yourself.

You will have earned it… I promise!

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