Whether you love them or hate them, multiday conferences present a huge array of competing opportunities. You can attend interesting sessions all day, fill your schedule with private client meetings, or focus on building stronger ties with marcomm colleagues you rarely see. Or you can just wander around making new connections with people. That’s what I usually do. In fact, that’s why I go to conferences.
Why would a copywriter wander around a tech conference talking to strangers? Because our clients engage me to find potential case study prospects at conferences.
When I return from a conference, I have dozens of case study prospects. They’ve all had a conversation with me, I know a little about what they do, and I know how open they are to doing a case study. The Content Bureau has found that attending user and partner conferences is actually one of the best ways to do case study outreach for our clients.
To get more out of your precious networking time at conferences:
Plan to connect: Decide in advance the types of people you want to meet. Marcomm peers? Potential customers? Sales people? When you’ve defined who you want to meet, it’s easier to target appropriate panels, parties, and booths.
Set goals: If you’re a little shy or tend not to network enough at conferences, set a goal for how many of these types of people you’d like to connect with. A realistic goal can help inspire you to spend enough time and energy on meeting people. Aim for at least two great and five good connections per day.
Introduce yourself and then listen: The most time-efficient way to meet people is to approach them and introduce yourself. Then ask a few open ended questions to get the conversation started. If the person is a good potential connection, keep the conversation going. And resist the temptation to look at your smartphone during every break. You won’t look very approachable, and it’s easy to waste an entire break—the perfect networking opportunity—replying to unimportant emails or returning calls.
Get a business card and make it yours: Ask everyone you speak to for a business card. Everyone—even people who don’t seem like good contacts. After speaking with a person, jot down what you talked about on the back of his or her card. If you want to extend the interaction, write down why.
Sustain the connection: After the conference, divide your collection of business cards into “good” and “great” contacts. Email everyone in the “great” pile—you definitely want to make them part of your network of contacts. Refer to the notes on the business card as your write the email. Try to offer something—an article or introduction—and ask for what you want from them—a meeting, a follow-up conversation, or participation in a marketing communications program. For everyone in the “good” pile, consider inviting them to become one of your Linkedin contacts.
What works for you? Share your conference networking tips by leaving a comment below.