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9 expert tips to make the most out of your conference networking

You’ve arrived.

There you are, attending a conference and looking to network with some peers and professionals. You don’t know anyone. Where do you start?

Making the most out of a room can be the difference between a successful conference and a dud.

Here are 9 sure-fire ways to get YOU the most out of your attendance.

1) Make a goals list

Knowing exactly what it is you want to get out of a conference before you attend that first keynote or networking reception makes a huge difference. Are there specific people you’re looking to meet?

A lot of professionals go into an event thinking people will come up to them and start a conversation. This couldn't be further from reality! Remember most other attendees are just as nervous as you are about starting conversations with strangers.

Go into with a tangible, realistic goal such as: “I want to talk to 3 new people that I will make an effort to keep in touch with after the event is over.”

2) Wear something that will distinguish you out of the blue and black blazer crowd

At professional events people tend to stick to one color palette. Want to really be remembered? Go in wearing a red blazer or bright blue slacks.

Of course, always keep it professional. Let’s face it - remembering names is not most people’s forte. We will recall, though, the person wearing that memorable red blazer. (You know it’s true!)

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(One of our SMSS speakers in a bright red dress!)

3) Prepare a quick intro about yourself

Everyone leads with name and company. Try something different - give a little context into your personality.

Try sharing something your new contact will be able to connect with to get the conversation started. Why did you decide to come to the conference? What’s something about the event that you’ve enjoyed thus far? What’s something you enjoy beyond your profession?

I guarantee the person you just struck up a conversation with will find it refreshing to kick off a conversation with something beyond just “So what do you do?”

4) Be the first to initiate the handshake

We have all had that awkward introduction where the person doesn’t initiate contact. If you want to make someone feel at ease in a professional setting, a solid handshake goes a long way. Shaking hands not only establishes a connection but shows you are eager to interact and engage.

5) Recognize the layout of the room

Every conference has cliques. Think back to high school when certain people ate at certain tables. Conferences are sometimes the same way. Find out where the speakers are, where the staff sit and find the people that are there alone looking to network just as you are. Once you can recognize groups of 2 or 3 that seem to be approachable, initiate interaction. Go in with a smile and see where the conversation takes you.

6) Mingle in at least a few different circles

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It’s common - and human nature - to stick with the people that you are most comfortable with. DON’T! Walk a couple of times around the room. Have other people introduce you to their groups.

7) Pay attention to your body language

When you are walking around the room and introducing yourself you have to “walk the walk.” People naturally respond to confident body language. So what does that look like, exactly?

Here are a few things you can try to make sure you appear approachable:

- Smiling creates positive energy and it's a great way to make another person feel more welcome.
- Use open gestures. By keeping your hands and arms open you are showing that you have “nothing to hide”. By staying relaxed, you are perceived as credible and informed.
- Strike a power pose. When you are entering into a new social setting it is normal to be nervous, but a straight back and holding your head high can lead to a boost of confidence. 


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*Fun tip to try: Don’t look at people’s name tags right when you meet them. Maintain eye contact and pay attention when they introduce themselves. If you need a reminder, you can always steal a glance once your conversation is over and you’re moving on to your next networking circle.

8) Go easy on handing out the business cards

Not everyone you meet at a conference is going to be a lasting connection. Be ready to hand out business cards when appropriate, but also know when to just enjoy talking with someone for the sake of conversation.

9) Be genuine and follow up

Even one meaningful connection with someone can make the whole event worthwhile. Remember to follow up! Even a quick “thank you” email, a short note via LinkedIn, or a mention on Twitter can go a long way. This strengthens your connection for the next time you reach out to them to grab a coffee.

Voila - watch your conference friend group grow!

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