Networking doesn’t really need a guidebook, right? Well, yes and no. While it’s true that most of us will be just fine at a conference if left to network according to our own antisocial devices, there are a few ways in which you can maximize your conference time and networking opportunities.
- Do your homework before arriving at the event. This is a critical step to keep in mind. In order to really get the most out of your time, take a few moments in the days leading up to the event to think about what the purpose of your attendance is, the questions you want to ask speakers or sponsors, or the people you really want to meet. If you’re attending in a group, think about how you can cover the most relevant content, and how you’re going to ensure that the team has a productive time out of the office.
- Plan which sessions you really want to attend and what topics you want to learn more about. No two sessions at a conference are ever alike. Each speaker, each topic, and each format has its own unique angle and potential rewards. Make sure you have a plan for how to get the most out of your session time, and in particular, a clear idea of the topics you really want to learn more about. Don’t spend time on-site figuring out where you should be – have a plan in mind!
- Keep an open mind when meeting new people. This one sounds a little obvious, but from experience it really pays to network with as many people from different backgrounds, perspectives, companies, and industries as possible. You’re all there to learn something; so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone a little. Nobody really likes to see eight people from the same company sat in a corner talking among themselves the whole time. Go and meet people!
- Be prepared to explain a bit about yourself, your role, and your company. You’re going to be introducing yourself a lot, and while this can be a hassle, it’s a great chance for you to make an impression on your fellow attendees. Furthermore, think of it as an exercise in personal and professional branding – you never fully know the value of these connections until one day you’re asking them on LinkedIn for career advice.
- If you want to meet your favorite speakers, they’re usually happy to connect after their session. Conference speakers are usually swamped with people wanting to talk with them so you may have to bide your time to get their undivided attention. Typically it’s easier to engage with them after their session is over, when they aren’t rushing around in preparation. Most speakers are also eager to continue a conversation on their topic with attendees, and will usually be happy to connect with you through LinkedIn, or through some other social media platform.
- Don’t be afraid of event sponsors, they’re usually some of the most talkative and informative people at the conference. Yes, they’re there to sell you things. But they’re almost always some of the nicest, most outgoing, and informative people at the event.
- Make use of unstructured time to network and talk with your fellow attendees. At every conference, there will be time where you’re not required to be anywhere in particular. This usually happens before the morning registration, at the coffee and lunch breaks, and at the conclusion of the day. These are the prime networking times where you’re able to meet and discuss with everyone present at the conference. Make sure you use this time to engage yourself in as many great conversations as possible, as these are the people you’re going to give your business card to, connect on social media, or maybe even end up doing some business with.
- The drinks reception provides more relaxed frame to meet people. The drinks reception is the double-edged sword of the conference world. It’s an enjoyable and relaxing time where you can unwind and network after a long and tiring day. It’s also a time you can unwind perhaps a little too much and find yourself in spiraling off into a tangential conversation. But never fear, it’s all a part of the experience (just take it easy).
- At the end of the conference day, make plans to have dinner with your new connections. Once the formalities for the day have ended, instead of dragging yourself back to your hotel room to enjoy 78 channels of entertainment, why not take the opportunity to organize a meal out with some of your fellow attendees? You don’t need to make it Michelin starred experience, but one that gives you an even better chance to get to know and network with the people around you. You might even get to try a tasty local specialty.
- Plan how to keep in contact with the people you meet once the conference is over. Make sure you get all the details of the people you have met and wish to keep in contact with by the end of the event. Nothing is more time consuming that filtering through endless picture-less profiles on LinkedIn to send a connection request to someone, who may or may not even be the same person you met at the conference last week. Just make sure you find a way to connect.
One of the most important networking tips is to try and put the overall experience in perspective. As someone who has attended and organized a large number of conferences and events, it’s easy to become a little jaded about many of the aspects of the wider conference environment. Nobody’s particularly happy about the early morning flights, late taxis, or the times when the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t even have an iron on your floor. But the reality is that attending a conference is an oftentimes an immensely rewarding and enjoyable experience regardless of the petty pitfalls we construct for ourselves. It’s enjoyable on many levels – from the travel, to meeting amazing people, exploring new ideas, and learning about topics that will have a profound impact on your personal and professional life. Sometimes it’s great to just sit back at the event and remind yourself that the experience is worth more than the sum of its parts.
By the way, turn the smartphone off sometimes. I promise you won’t suffer.
The 3rd HR Congress Brussels will take place on November 27-28 and will feature 50+ speakers and a selection of sessions that will explore a huge range of topics! Make sure you follow the HR Congress blog and social media channels to stay up to date with the latest information, and for more interesting ideas and content from around the world of work!