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August 30, 2022

Networking at a Conference? You Can’t Just Show Up!

The Fall season of industry events is upon us… the ESOMAR Congress, TMRE, the Corporate Researchers Conference and others. And if you’re planning on attending any of these… ARE YOU READY? Attending a conference to learn – and, more importantly – to network, should not be taken lightly. So, to help you get the most from your investment of time and money, here are 18 conference networking tips…

BEFORE the Conference

  • Make sure you’ve got plenty of business cards to get you through the entire ‘conference season.’ Even though many events now use some sort of electronic ‘connector,’ old-fashioned business cards can be very useful while networking.
  • As you find out which of your clients and prospects will be at the event, schedule an appointment to meet them at a specific time and place during the conference. Showing up and hoping you’ll both be available to connect inevitably leads to disappointment.
  • How’s your Elevator Pitch? If you’re like most in our industry… it’s pretty boring and not very memorable. Spruce it up… in addition to ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do,’ talk about the types of clients you help, the kinds of problems you solve and how your firm is unique.
  • Let the world know you’ll be attending a conference… in the weeks leading up to it, promote your presence in social posts, in your firm’s monthly e-newsletter and in your email signature. And certainly in 1-on-1 calls with clients and prospects.
  • Since you’ve already paid for the conference ticket, your travel, hotel and food… consider investing just a little bit more and stay an extra day or two (or arrive a day or two early) in the city where the event is taking place. It will give you the chance to schedule some appointments in the offices of your buyers and give you more time to meet with them, as opposed to 5 minutes at the conference.
  • Events aren’t just about networking, they’re also about learning… so be sure to review the conference schedule ahead of time and block off those sessions you’re most interested in so you don’t miss them.
  • Take some time to review the lists of exhibitors, sponsors and speakers. Start putting together a game plan for those you want to meet.
  • If you’re going to the conference with a co-worker… try to avoid them! By that, I mean, split up responsibilities – go to different sessions, target different potential buyers, don’t sit together at lunch. Double the coverage… double the opportunities.
  • What kind of shape is your LinkedIn profile in? Before you head to the conference, make sure it’s up-to-date and complete. If you connect with any potential buyers, one of the first things they’ll do after the conference is look you up on LinkedIn… and you want make sure your profile will dazzle them!
  • Many conference organizers now use some sort of ‘app’ for their event… to provide schedule information, venue maps and to encourage networking. Download the app ahead of time and make sure you’re comfortable using it.

 DURING the Conference

  • Does your firm provide any sort of logo’d apparel or even logo pins? If so, wear them! It’s amazing how many people will recognize your logo and approach you, even if they don’t recognize you.
  • Don’t miss any of the social and networking events. Yes, you’ll be tired after spending all day on your feet, but these are not-to-be-missed opportunities. Chatting over a cocktail is a great way to start a ‘relationship.’
  • PRO TIP: take notes. After 2-3 days of networking, you might have a pocket full of business cards, but you will not remember the details of all of those conversations. So, take notes. Whether you use a little notepad or an iPhone, scribble down every detail you can remember from every conversation (even when and where it took place). You’ll then use this information for more effective follow-up (see #18 below).
  • Be a “stalker!” Most events have some sort of coffee station or snack room for conference attendees. Hang out there. Eventually, everybody will swing by (at least once) to grab a coffee or a nosh.
  • Silence or – better yet – turn off your cell phones. You want to be doing ‘eyes’ up’ networking… not ‘eyes down’ texting. If you really need to check emails or send a text, get off the event floor and find a quiet place to do it. Worse, you don’t want to have a really good conversation with a prospective buyer interrupted by your silly ring-tone.

 AFTER the Conference

  • As soon as you can, review the conference with your team – while it’s still fresh in your mind. What was good about it? Not so good? And most importantly, is this an event we should attend again in the future? Or even consider being an exhibitor?
  • Connect! As soon as possible after the event, send out invitations to everyone you met and invite them to connect on LinkedIn. In addition, make sure you put everyone’s contact information in your firm’s CRM system.
  • Finally – and most importantly – follow-up smartly. Virtually all of your competitors at the event will send some sort of boring, generic follow-up note. But, because you took notes about every conversation you had (see #13 above), your follow-up notes can be specific and customized to each recipient, based on what the two of you talked about. That sort of targeted follow-up can really accelerate the buying-selling process (and move you to the ‘top of the list’).

A final comment… a strong suggestion, really. Conferences are hard work – standing all day, having to be on your ‘A game’ while networking with all those people, not to mention dealing with travel, hotels, etc., etc. So, please remember to “Have some fun!” Relax… unwind… and enjoy yourself. Being at a conference sure beats sitting at a desk all day!


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