You finally pulled the trigger and bought the ticket to that conference you’ve been dying to go to for years. It’s a few weeks away and now instead of excitement, you are absolutely freaking out.
I’ve been there, but trust me, you’re going to be great, but to help alleviate your nerves here are 55 ways to help network while attending a conference.
Practice Your Pitch
The most common question you are going to be asked is “what do you do”. Whether you agree that’s the right question to ask or not, it is what it is. So, be ready.
For me, when people ask what I do I say “I manufacture profit for small businesses”.
It’s quick, easy to remember, and leads to being asked a ton more questions.
Yes, that felt weird to say the first few times, but it has seriously worked, so find whatever it is that you’re going to say to the questions you know you’re going to be asked, and then practice practice practice.
Show Up Early
I am an early person, I’m early for everything I do. However, sometimes I look at conferences and think to myself that nothing “interesting” is going on until the second day, or till the last hour of the first, or whatever. That may be true, but the actual conference isn’t the whole reason you’re going.
Getting to the conference early and just talking with people will be far more important than any session you go to at the conference.
Be Interested In Other People
When you are speaking to people at a conference it can be very easy to classify them in our heads as someone not for us.
Maybe we are looking for more clients, or podcast guests, or people to interview us, whatever the case often the people we are talking to may not fit exactly what we’re looking for. However, they may be the most important person at the conference for us.
If you are genuinely interested in people they will be interested in you. Ask questions about them, what they like, what they are grateful for, what is something they are excited about right now, how they are enjoying the conference, whatever you’re interested in, but be interested in them.
You never know who that person knows, they may have 10 people that are your perfect client and they could introduce you to each one making you thousands of dollars.
Even if they don’t, just be a good human being and be interested in the people that are talking to you, it’s the polite thing to do.
If you are at a conference to learn, go to each session, and when they ask if anyone has any questions make sure your hand goes up.
This can lead to people coming up to you who were afraid to ask the question you had and thank you. It also shows the speaker that you care about what they are saying, paying attention and most important getting value from it.
When meeting new people, ask about them. People will talk all day about themselves if you let them, so give people the opportunity by asking a lot of questions about them, their business, even their family.
Talk To Strangers
Unless you are a huge networker already (in which case I doubt you’re reading this) you are going to know basically no one at the conference.
Even if you have a huge network, you’ll still have people there that you do not know, so introduce yourself, start a conversation.
Don’t wait for people to come up to you, because though it happens, everyone is scared, you’ll be a relief if you do the talking to start.
Use Peoples Names
This is something I’ve tried to do for years, not always successfully. Fortunately, at conferences, there are a few cheats.
The first thing people will tell you is their name, as soon as they do, AS SOON AS THEY DO, repeat it back to them. Take a mental note of their name, and then try to use it as many times as it feels natural in the conversation. In fact, it may feel unnatural, but that’s ok.
And, at the end of the conversation use their name again.
There is this magical thing when we hear our own name, so when you use it, that person will feel more connected to you, and more likely to remember you.
If you by chance didn’t follow my very important message about making a note right away, you can always look at their badge that has their name on it.
Bring Mints And Cough Drops
My very first conference I ever went to I lost my voice on the second day.
For anyone who knows me, they would say that’s impossible.
I am one of the MOST chatty people most people ever meet. It’s something I’ve worked on over the years, but honestly, I like being me and talking to people.
So, when I lost my voice it came as a shock because I’ve never lost my voice before. But that’s what happens at conferences.
Think about it, you are talking to people from usually 7 am in the morning to 10 pm (some stay up till 1 am or later too, not me, no way Jose). So, it’s not a question of if your voice will go, but when.
So, I started bringing cough drops wherever I go to a conference for this reason. If you run into me at one, ask for one I’m glad to share, plus I usually have a bag of about 500.
Mints are equally important, not only will they help keep your throat moist, they’ll make sure when you’re talking to people they aren’t trying to get away from any unfortunate odors coming out of your mouth.
Drink Plenty Of Water
I’ve been on a water kick for a while now, and though at this point I think everyone should stop drinking everything but water (and scotch, but come on give me something) it’s especially important at conferences.
First, you’ll be speaking with people all day and your throat will be dry (see the cough drops above) water will help with that.
Second, you’ll be tired, and though you’re first thought may be to drink copious amounts of coffee the truth is that water is going to be much better for you in the long run.
If you stay hydrated, you’ll be less tired, you’ll be able to stay out later, be more clear while speaking with people, and be able to get the most out of the conference.
If you have a Yeti, bring that, because they are amazing and everyone should own one.
However, if you have a wife like mine who won’t let you’re yeti go anywhere for fear that you’ll lose it, then bring lots of bottles of water to drink. I typically have at least one in my bag and will grab any available water before going to the bottle anytime.
Fortune Is In The Followup
This should be self-explanatory but follow up with everyone you meet.
There are a lot of techniques on how to do this, but make sure you’re doing it.
Don’t expect people to reach out to you, don’t expect that person you spoke with who told you they would pay for your service when they got back to reach out. You have to do the heavy lifting.
Some people create a pre-populated email that can go out for people they meet at the conference. You can follow up while at the conference, emailing the people you met in the morning the night of the conference while at the hotel.
Or, you can wait till you get back and start reaching out to people.
Whatever works best for you, just make sure that you reach out to everyone, you never know what can come from it.
Have A Clear Goal
What is the purpose of conferences? For some, it’s to learn everything they can on a particular subject such as podcasting, videos, social media, etc.
For others, the purpose is to try to find new clients. Maybe they have a Facebook Ads Agency in need of clients (hint hint) and they want to walk away with some new clients from the conferences they go to.
And for others, the purpose of the conference is to drink and go to the parties. I don’t suggest this one.
Whatever your goal is, figure it out and make sure it’s clearly in mind before you go to the conference.
Stay Wherever The Conference Is Being Held
This one sounds like a no brainer, I mean where else would you stay? Well, with Airbnb and the like around it’s very tempting to find a better price close to the conference. I’m guilty of it myself, to be honest, and I’ve been fortunate with it.
Two of the three times I’ve done it, the conference was within walking distance of the place I stayed. However, the other time was terrible, it was a 20-minute uber drive, of which one I thought I was going die. The driver was that bad.
Yes, you may save money staying elsewhere, but you’ll also be missing out on the best networking time.
Finding people and talking to them in the hallway after the official conference hours are over can lead to the best opportunities and relationships you’ll ever have.
I am not, I repeat not talking about drinking, though that is usually a big part of conferences. I’m talking about knowing which people, brands, and sessions you want to see while at the conference.
At least a few weeks before the entire schedule is posted, take some time before the conference to figure out which sessions are right for you.
If there is a Facebook group of people going, get involved in the group at least a month before. Start asking questions in the group about what everyone is excited about, what their goals for the conference are, who they want to meet while there, whatever you can think of. Just get on peoples radar. Your goal should be for people to see you and say “aren’t you the guy that’s been in the Facebook group for a month?”
Most conferences have an app that you can see who will be there, again if not check the Facebook group and see who is going to be at the conference that you would like to see. This could be clients you’ve worked with but never met face to face, people you’ve been following for a long time, or a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Whoever it is, make sure you know ahead of time, and try to schedule a coffee with before the conference.
Finally, there are going to be a ton of companies looking for influencers, they need help selling their products. There will also be companies that have services you may be interested in. Take a little time before going to the conference to see what companies will be there and plan on meeting with the ones that interest you.
Reach Out Before The Conference
After you have taken the time to have a plan for the conference, reach out to people.
If you want to meet someone, send them an email, tweet, or a direct message to get their attention. It would be great if you set up a time and place to meet but isn’t necessary. What you’re the main goal is here is for people to know who you are before you get to the conference.
Just Do It
I know how scary it is to go up to someone you don’t know. I know how much you really want to meet that blogger you’ve been following for 3 years.
So, do it.
Seriously just do it. If you see someone in the halls that you want to talk to, just do it, don’t think about it, don’t psych yourself out, just go up to them and introduce yourself.
At my first conference, I seriously was a crazy person, I kept meeting my heroes and didn’t know what to do. Now, only 3 years later, those heroes of mine (and they still are) now know who I am and will gladly talk to me.
They are people too and want to meet you as much as you want to meet them.
Now, a word of caution.
If someone is talking, you need to use good judgment. Sometimes, it’s completely ok to join that conversation, other times it’s completely not.
Be Ready To Answer The Usuals
Though I think most questions at conferences are good, there are some I think are not so great, like “what do you do”.
Still, you need to be ready for it because people are going to ask you, you need to also be ready for other common questions as well.
Why did you come to this conference? What made you want to come? What’s your favorite session so far? Who is your favorite speaker?
Think about the questions you are likely to get and make sure you have a good answer ready to go.
Every conference I’ve ever gone to I see a whole bunch of people who have paid a ton of money to be there sitting on their laptops at tables. I have done this myself before, but I feel I had a good reason, who knows the other people probably did too. But, if at all possible don’t do this.
If you need to take notes, bring a pen and paper, take them on your tablet, or phone. If you need to get some work done, do it as quick as possible and get back to meeting people and talking.
Try your best to get all your work done before you come, any blog posts, emails, or social media posts that you want to go out make sure you automate them.
Just make sure that people know you’re available to talk. If you’re looking at a device, you don’t look very inviting.
Meet Your Heroes, But Don’t Spend All Day On It
My first conference I wanted to meet so many people, but none more than Pat Flynn.
At the time his book Will It Fly? had just come out and he had a book signing. I couldn’t wait to meet him. I got to the line 30 minutes before he was supposed to get there, and several other people had the same idea because there was already a line.
While patiently waiting these two guys came up and were talking next to me. I said hi to be polite but couldn’t focus on anything but meeting my hero.
Well, man do I wish I paid closer attention to who was standing next to me, it was J.D Roth another huge hero of mine. Because of my being focused on one, I almost missed another.
So, I think it’s important to meet your heroes, but don’t spend so much time and effort to do so, that you don’t get to meet anyone else.
Go To The Sessions You Want
There are a lot of people, myself included, that will tell you the sessions aren’t important. Usually, you can get the recordings and watch them later.
That being said, they’re great to go to if you’re looking to learn.
So, rather than get there, look at what’s going on and then deciding what it is you’re going to go to, take an hour or more to sit down with the schedule as far before the conference as possible and figure out which sessions you’re going to go to.
Share While At The Conference
I have yet to go to a conference that doesn’t have a hashtag, so find out what it is and use it for everything you’re doing. My go-to social media for conferences is twitter. I share on Instagram and Facebook but only after the conference is done, so if you want to see things live you’ll have to follow me on twitter.
That’s me though, whatever your social media of choice is, use that as much as you can while at the conference.
Not only will other people recognize you, the organizers we’ll learn who you are, and appreciate what you do.
Nametags Are Important
People are going to forget your name, that’s ok you’re wearing a nametag. It’s your job to make sure that it’s on your kneck correctly so people can read it.
Not only that, make sure you keep an eye on other peoples name tags so you get their name right. Some conferences even have QR codes on the name tag so you can follow that person in the conference app.
Have In Mind What You Can Do For Others, Not Just What You Can Get From Them
All too often you see people that are on a mission to get new clients, sales, or connections. There is nothing wrong with that, we are in business, this conference is supposed to help grow our business, so we should have that in mind.
However, you’ll find much more success if you focus on what you can do for other people. Are they launching a new product? Tell them you can share it on your social media. Are they looking to guest post on other blogs? Let them write for you.
Look for ways you can help other people, it will come back to you.
Go To The After Parties And Other Meetups
I cannot tell you how many people came up with six or seven-figure ideas at a party at a conference.
Lola Retreat came out of a conversation at a party at FinCon, and now is a huge conference for Women.
You never know what will come out of one of these parties and talking to people there.
I usually stay out of the after-after parties, I don’t deal well with very intoxicated people, 2 is my maximum at these things.
Have A Way Out
Sometimes you will want or need to get out of a conversation. Make sure you have a polite way of doing so.
It may be because of the person you’re talking to, maybe it’s uncomfortable, maybe you need to get to a session, whatever it is try not to make the person feel like you’re ignoring them.
Get the Conference App
Almost every single conference I’ve ever been to has an app that goes along with it. You need to download this app.
In the app you can see the schedule, you can see who will be there, you can see who the speakers are. Not only that, but it has an easy way to connect with those you meet, or even set up some of the meetings you want to have.
I actually hate business cards, with technology the way it is now, I personally think we shouldn’t need it. But, some people ask for them, so I have them for them.
I try not to pull my business cards out unless someone asks.
But, having an easy way for people to remember who you are and how to get in touch with you is too easy to pass up.
Go To The Closest Coffee Shop
One of the best things you can do at a conference is to leave the conference or at least go to the coffee shop at the conference.
Conferences can be loud, there can be a ton of people, but almost everyone drinks coffee so that is usually a great place to go to in order to meet more people. I usually set up some of my meetings at the nearest coffee shop.
Share Your Contact Info
I have a contact in my phone that is my name and the conference I’m at. It has my phone number, a picture of me, my website, email, everything a business card would have. I simply ask their phone number and send them my contact info to it. This way I have their number and they have my entire contact information.
Be A Conversation Starter
The least favorite part of every conversation is starting it, so get good at doing that.
Ask questions like, how are you enjoying the conference so far? What have been your favorite sessions? How much sleep did you get last night?
Be the type of person that can not only be in a lot of conversations but start a lot of conversations.
Don’t Drag A Conversation On
Read the cues, don’t be that guy that drags a conversation on that clearly only you want to be in.
Is the person more interested in their phone than you? Are they looking around to all the people around you rather than at you? Did they write an SOS on a piece of paper and hold it up for passersby?
If the person doesn’t want to continue talking, don’t force it.
Be Yourself, Not Who You “Should Be”
Don’t change who you are because you think that’s what people want. If you aren’t outgoing, that’s ok you don’t have to be. If you’re the type of person that regularly talks to everyone in a room, do it.
Be who you are, yes get out of your comfort zone, but in the end be who you are.
Network At The Airport
So many times you can see people you know, or run into people. On my way to the Airport from FinCon16 I ended up being in a bus with Jordan Harbinger, I could have used this opportunity while he was not around hundreds of other people to try to make an impression. I didn’t, and it is a huge regret I have of that conference.
Bottom line, the networking doesn’t stop at the conference.
Have A System
You need to have a system in place to follow up with everyone you meet. My first year, I took all the business cards I got, wrote how we met and what we spoke about on each of the cards. Then each night of the conference I would email those that I met that day.
The following year, I took a notebook and wrote everything down in that.
There are also some paid services that help you do this like contactually.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a plan in place that will make sure no one falls through the cracks.
Connect On LinkedIn
Whether you are a heavy LinkedIn user or not, and really you should be, you should connect on LinkedIn if possible.
One of the great things the app has is a “nearby” feature. Have the person you’re talking to open their app and click on nearby and you two can connect that way. A lot of times people haven’t heard of that and are more than happy to do it just because of the “cool” factor.
Leave Your Buddy
I get it, you’re nervous, but if you’re always with someone you can seem busy and never have good conversations.
My first conference, there was this group of three people that were always together. I met them all at breakfast on the first day, and they met each other at the same time. Then, every time I saw them for the whole rest of the conference they were together.
Don’t be these people, you seem like you only want to talk to the same people and it really limits who you can meet.
Write On The Business Cards
How did you meet? Where did you meet? What did you talk about? You won’t remember while going through the cards later write it down right away.
I usually write on the back of the card, sometimes right in front of the person. I have even explained what I’m doing and have been told many times how good an idea that is.
Have A Meal Off-site
One breakfast I had with a friend completely revamped my business. That’s the power of a conference, so if you have an opportunity to have a meal that isn’t at the conference, do it. You never know what can come of it.
My wife would say that you’re invading her personal bubble, this makes people very uneasy.
I get it, some people have no problem being close to others, I’m a hugger, I love hugs. Some people don’t even want to shake your hand.
Be careful how close you get.
Enjoy The Free Drinks, But Not Too Much
Most conferences have at least a few free drinks, and I enjoy them myself but make sure you don’t over drink.
You don’t want to be that guy who everyone is talking about the next morning.
Don’t Go Up To Speakers Right After Their Session
If there is a speaker that you really really want to meet, do it before the session. Right after the session, people are swarmed by others who want to talk to them.
If you don’t find them before the session, then be patient and wait, odds are you’ll see that person again in the halls, or at another session and they won’t be surrounded by everyone.
Stay Charged, Bring A Charger
While at a conference you’ll be sharing things on social media, you’ll be sharing your contact information, and you’ll be freaking out because your phone is dead.
So, bring a charger usually, you’ll be able to plug in and get a charge, some vendors will actually have a place to charge while you talk to them.
Personally, I make sure to bring a portable charger as well because I want to make sure I don’t miss anything.
How To Dress
This is probably the thing I get asked the most. I have gone to a conference in a suit and tie, I’ve gone in jeans and a T-Shirt. Honestly, most conferences you go to will be completely ok with jeans and a T-shirt.
That being said, make sure you’re comfortable, but not too comfortable. Don’t look like you just woke up and put on some clothes that others wouldn’t wear in the privacy of their own home, let alone in public.
Be In The Moment
One of the things that happen all too often is you’re talking to someone, but you’re not really there. Your focus needs to be on the person you’re talking to, or the session you’re listening to.
Whatever it is you’re doing, give it all your attention.
Speak To People Before And After Sessions, Not Your Technology
When you sit down before a session starts this is the perfect time to start to talk to people. If you’re going to take notes and you want to get that ready, that’s fine, but don’t take too much time with that. Talk to the people around you.
And, after the session, don’t rush out, take a little time to talk to people around you. Maybe they asked a question that you liked, or spoke about their business that you think you would be a good match with.
Invite People To Your Group
When you’re standing in a group of people if someone walks by that you know to invite them to the group. If someone is standing nearby and looks like they want to join, ask them to.
People will love you forever if you’re the one that “connects” people by having them join your group.
The More In The Front Of The Room, The More Talkative People Are
Who sits in the front of the room? People who are really interested in what that session is about, or who really love that speaker.
And you know what else those who sit at the front are? Talkative.
They want to talk to people of like minds because odds are they don’t have much people in their life that are. So, have conversations, have lots of conversations.
Exercise, If That’s Your Thing
Every conference I’ve ever gone to has a “running group”. I do not ever join those, not because I think people shouldn’t but because I am not a runner.
I want to, I really do, but I have yet to get in shape enough to run with anyone, and I feel if someone has to call an ambulance to save me it would probably be memorable but not in the way I am looking for.
If you, however, are one who can run, I recommend that you join this group, you never know what connections you can make.
Plan Back-Up Sessions
Sometimes the session isn’t what you expected, don’t stay.
If you are not going to get value from a session, there is no reason to stay, just leave. But, have a plan in case you do.
Look and see what other sessions you want to go to before the conference, or just network in the hall.
Whatever you do, have a plan in place in case it doesn’t work.
Look For Empty Seats And Join
Find a seat next to people and join. Ask first, but join.
Some of my best conversations came from sitting next to a random person on a couch, or table, and just having a conversation.
Ask Lots Of Questions
People Love Talking About Themselves, let them
Ask about why they are there, where they came from, what they’re grateful for, or working on right now.
Don’t just ask people questions to ask questions either, be genuinely interested in people.
Have A Plan To Share The Photos
Conferences are a great place to get pictures to share on social media. Yes, you should share them right away, but you should also hold some back to share on social throughout the year.
It’s not often that you get to see all the people you can see at one conference. Have a plan though, just saving it to your phone is likely not enough. Create a dropbox specifically for pictures you want to share later.
Whenever I see PT at a conference, he quickly grabs someone else and introduces us. He is the perfect connector, and I wish I could be as good as that.
Even in my limited capacity I still try to make sure to connect people as much as possible. Make sure you compliment the people you are going to introduce, saying good things about other people make you seem just as good as that person.
Finish Strong, Ask If You Can Help Them
Have a strong finish to each conversation, and plan it in advance.
I usually like to ask people if there is anything I can do to help them, it’s not always something I can specifically do, but sometimes who I can introduce them to.
Give Everyone Your Full Attention
You have no idea who you’re talking to, you could be talking to the person who runs the conference, you could be talking to the affiliate manager of the perfect affiliate for your brand, or anyone else. So, make sure you give that person your full attention, don’t treat anyone like a “little” person.
Talk Less Than You Listen
We all love talking about ourselves, I get it but just don’t.
You’re in a room, or building full of people who are as smart or more likely smarter than you are, ask questions.
At FlynnCon I sat next to Michael O’Neil a brilliant branding expert and listened as someone explained what they were trying to go for with their brand. Michael then spent the next 30 minutes helping narrow the brand and explain how she could market it and the whole nine yards.
Had I tried to talk during this, I never would have got to see him work the way he does, and it was amazing.
So, listen far more than you speak and you’ll have a great time at any conference.
Don’t Try To Meet Everyone
I have been to conferences with less than 20o people, I’ve also been at some with around 3,000, with either there is no way you can possibly meet everyone.
So don’t try, if you don’t meet everyone it isn’t even the end of the world. In fact, meeting a few and building a few really good relationships rather than a ton of shallow relationships that won’t even remember you come next week.
Now You’re A Conference Networker
Now that you’ve gone through this, actually get out there and do it. Don’t let this be for nothing.
You’ve bought the ticket, booked the flight, and got the hotel room. You are going to be amazing. Things are going to happen that you never thought possible.
After your conference, come back here and let me know how it went in the comments below.