Reading Time: 7 minutesWe are going to delve into tips for networking at conference functions and exhibitions to help you make this type of networking more manageable and palatable.
There are natural networkers. The natural networkers are those social butterflies that we witness, moving easily around the room, chatting, laughing, connecting and with seemingly no pain, but a lot of gain. Namely, lots of new connections and business cards.
But here’s the thing. This didn’t happen overnight, no matter how social the person. Someone who has that ability to connect easily, has probably being doing this networking for a long time and has built up a large network of contacts, so don’t let this scare you, daunt you or put you off at all.
And then there are the rest of us. The introverts and ambiverts.
We are going to delve into tips for networking at conference functions and exhibitions to help you make this type of networking more manageable and palatable.
We’ve all been in that place where we’ve entered the hotel, ready to go into the function room, but then suddenly take a quick exit left towards the bathrooms, to reapply, the already perfect lipstick or lipgloss, to fix the tie that isn’t crooked or simply to hide in a stall to collect ourselves and build ourselves back up.
You then psych yourself back up and head into the room, straight for the bar or buffet, so that you have something to do and avoid the eye contact. Or else, you see someone smiling, gravitate towards them and stay with them for the rest of the evening, because it feels safe.
What if there was a better and easier way to manage these situations?
I give a few tips for introverts starting on their networking journey here. Have a read, as it may shed a little bit of light on how to approach networking. And then, add those points to my tips listed below, to help you create a framework and plan.
Mindset is key when going to exhibitions, conferences and trade shows. A lot of people take the events side as a social occasion, rather than a networking occasion, so my advice is to put yourself in business mode and make a plan.
A key point is to have a goal in mind of what you want to achieve. If you are new to networking at large events like this, be kind to yourself. Take a reasonable goal, make it happen, celebrate your success and do a little debrief with yourself about what went right and what you’d like to improve upon for the next time. Networking takes practice and practice, they say, makes perfect.
Well, I don’t believe it makes it perfect, but it certainly makes the process less daunting, more manageable, more fun and you’ll build a stellar network in the process.
Learn what not to do and what to do in order to achieve your goals and ensure success. Remember, if you are representing your business and your company, a lot of money has been spent to have you there, so don’t waste the time, energy and opportunity.
Here are a few tips to ensure networking success at trade shows, exhibitions and conference functions.
1. Avoid Eating & Drinking
The first thing to plan is eating and drinking in advance of the event. Avoid eating and drinking at networking events. It’s awkward and becomes a hindrance. You can’t easily shake hands, there is never enough seating or tables, so come well fed and watered, so this isn’t your focus. If you are anything like me, you won’t concentrate well if you are hungry!
Networking events are for networking, not for socialising. You are attending the event, as a strategic use of your time. You want to connect with people and you can’t do this effectively if your mouth is full, your hands are holding glasses and plates – it simply becomes awkward.
2. In Good Company
For many people, going to mass networking events is daunting, disconcerting and simply painful. It’s a great idea to have a networking buddy to go with. When you are entering the room with someone, that moral support can be such a boost and really invaluable. While networking involves working the room in a systematic and rational form, you can regroup and offer encouragement to each other.
But sometimes you will be on your own, so we’ll discuss some strategies for managing your emotions, breathing and how to achieve your goals in an another blog, coming soon.
If you are going with colleagues, make sure to plan how you are going to approach the event. There is no point in being in an office together, and then going out to a networking event and sticking together. Doing this is a disservice to you and your team. You are there to develop new relationships and get new contacts. If you spend time with your colleagues, how can you achieve your business objectives?
Instead, look to divide and conquer. Decide in advance, who you want to meet and who is going to work the room. It’s fine to regroup and split up again. This can be energy saving, particularly for introverts. If you are at an event with tables, e.g. in banquet or cabaret style set up, pick a different table per colleague. Do not sit together; if you do, you might as well be back in the office.
If you are attending annual trade shows and conferences, you will absolutely want to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while. You are nurturing these relationships and friendships. This will give you energy. But don’t forget that you are there to meet new people. If you are abroad, don’t just stick with people from your country, or county or region. Think more laterally.
Diversity is enriching.
Which leads me nicely into point 4.
4. Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail
Reach out to the organisers and find out who is going to be at the event. Decide who you want to meet and develop relationship with.
Start with achieveable goals and when you succeed, celebrate your success. It’ll give you confidence. Aim to meet three new people. Put a number on your plan. Write it down.
In these days of being socially connected, I would reach out to your selected few on Linkedin and say that you are going to be at the event and you’d like to meet them at the event. You could arrange to meet in the bar in advance of the event. This might be a welcome point for the recipient, as you just never know how people are struggling, so if there is a predetermined set of meetings, it makes it much easier for lots of people. And then you have someone to walk into the event with.
5. Understanding the Room Dynamics
When you go into large function rooms, you’ll see that people divide themselves into different configurations. There will be individuals standing at the bar, keeping themselves propped up at a cocktail table 0r glued to the buffet table.
Then you’ll have a mix of closed and open groups.
Closed groups offer little opportunity, so identify them and move on. This is where a couple of people, or small cluster, are in a small circle or closed format that doesn’t lend itself to you inserting yourself to meet them.
Open groups, on the other hand are where you want to be. Generally, these groups are in a half moon or have a space for you ‘to enter’.
A simple, ‘May I join you?’ or ‘Can I join you?’ or ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ will suffice to enter the conversation. Generally speaking, people will be friendly, open and welcoming.
I have been in situation where I’ve happened upon a group from the same company or country. This can be a little awkward, as you are then clearly the ‘odd man or woman’ out. In this circumstance, I would have a brief conversation, understand why they are there and what they are going to get out of the event and then say, lovely to meet you and move on to the next group.
6. Brand You
Many people invest in developing their brand and use this as an identifer at meetings. Jane Manzor uses her trademark pink for her lipstick and generally a pink blazer or dress when out and about, so I’ve come to expect this when I meet her.
I’ve mentioned this before in my blog, how to dress at networking meetings.
A lot of men focus on socks, ties or coloured runners. Not only does it easily identify the person, it generally acts as a conversation starter which helps relax people and gives them something light to talk about. This is useful for non-natural networkers who don’t know where to start.
Some companies and networks have lapel pins that can be used to identify fellow tribes people. I used to work in a large company called MCI, so when I was out and about, I’d know a fellow colleague from the flower lapel pin. These also act as conversation starters, e.g. tell me about your lapel pin. What’s it all about?
Personally, I always have a pen and pad to hand. I never leave the house without one. Why, because inspiration and ideas come from all around us, so I always have a log of my thoughts. We used to say, in one of my previous positions, ‘if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.’. I make notes on who I meet, who I want to connect with on Linkedin or other social media profiles and who I’ll engage with on email after the networking event.
To finish up, I hope that these tips for networking at conference functions and exhibitions have been helpful. I can safely say that I’ve made all of these mistakes. As a shy, introvert, it’s an area I constantly have to work on and manage, so I completely get the angst, worry and frustration. For me it can manifest itself in migraines. But with practice, I’m getting better, but I don’t think my journey has finished.
Have a read of my blog how to be an amazing networker for more tips and ideas.
If you have other ideas and suggestions of topics, I’d love to hear them. If you’ve questions, email me them and I can answer by virtue of another blog. Remember, if you have a question, then lots of other people do too.
You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And do connect in with me on Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. Let’s keep the #networking conversation going!
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