If you’ve ever been to a work conference, then you know the one variable that could make or break your experience is who you end up meeting. After all, aside from the invaluable skill-building sessions and thought-provoking workshops, the relationships you make along the way will be what ultimately sticks with you after it’s over.
If you’re thinking to yourself, but I’m terrible at talking to strangers, don’t fret. That’s because we’re breaking down all the do’s and don’ts of networking at your next conference, in support of our upcoming Girlboss Rally in NYC.
We leaned on the expertise of several career coaches and PR professionals to outline the networking basics every ambitious woman should have in her arsenal. With tips like these, you’ll be collecting business cards before you know it.
8 tips on how to network at a conference:
Kari DePhillips, owner of digital PR agency The Content Factory says, “Put your Twitter to work. Prior to the event, check out who’s tweeting about going. Ahead of the conference, interact with them in a non-spammy way with the goal of getting on their radar so they’ll know who you are when you meet in person at the event. Since they’ll already know who you are, it’ll be significantly less awkward.”
According to North Carolina marketing director Erin Sagester, “Everyone is there for a similar reason: To broaden their networking circle. If you are alone, find someone else who is alone and start a conversation. As you are engaging with the other single person, keep an eye out for others that are alone as well. Your circle will widen and all of a sudden, your confidence rises because you are no longer alone—you are the connector.”
For Katelyn McCullough, co-founder of Elwynn + Cass who finds most of her business through networking and conferences, it’s all about talking about something other than what you do for work. “Start off with questions about them (i.e. ‘how did you hear about the event?’) or compliment them on what they are wearing. This disarms people and allows you to connect on a human level.”
Instead of working the room to meet as many individuals as possible, Haley Bakker of Whirlaway Marketing says, “Go into conferences and networking events with the goal of making one to two deep, substantial connections. Feeling as if you need to meet everyone can be exhausting, plus it’s unrealistic.”
Bakker adds, “I always try to wear something unique to a conference where I’m going to meet new faces. People want an opportunity to come up and start a conversation with you, and a great pair of shoes or interesting top provides the perfect opportunity to do that. As an added bonus, it’s something your new contact will likely remember about you after they’ve met a lot of different people.”
When it comes to who you “should” be networking with, career coach Amanda Oliver says, “Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Talk to everyone! Vendors, attendees, speakers, conference hosts, etc. The reason for this is two-fold: For one, you never know who that person knows, especially within your industry. You want to make sure you’re always making a good impression so that if/when word gets back to your bosses, it’s positive.
“And two, people move companies fairly frequently these days. Even if that person isn’t in a position to help you or your career now, you don’t know where they might be in six months or a year or two. It’s always important to keep doors open if you can.”
Nicole Wood, co-founder of career coaching company Ama La Vida recommends keeping an eye out for bonus events. “Look out for the optional events like breakfasts or dinners which most people don’t attend. This will give you a chance to connect with other conference-goers in a more intimate setting.”
When it comes to keeping your new connections straight, Wood says, “Take notes on who the person is and what they’re interested in; the back of their business card is a great place for this. Send a follow-up email and perhaps relevant materials or an introduction to someone who might be helpful for them. Go above and beyond for them. By following up, you are immediately setting yourself apart and staying top of mind to the other person.”