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The best entrepreneurs I know spend concentrated time delving into knowledge to better themselves and their perspectives. They listen to podcasts, read books and seek out the advice of others.
They also make conference attendance a priority. Trade associations and educational opportunities provide a unique space to not only dive deep into your own organization, but also connect with others. It’s in the midst of those connections that I’ve found the most benefits. Intentional networking with fellow attendees has led to integral customer relationships and provided exponential value to my businesses.
Conferences are a powerful avenue to gather insights that may apply to your company, but they can also be used for so much more. Here are three ways I have learned to network like a pro in a conference setting:
1. Come prepared
Strategic and intentional networking is nothing without a plan. When preparing for a conference, think about:
What types of connections are you hoping to make?
What problems are affecting your business, and how can this conference help address those?
Is your brand message ready?
Who are the key people I want to meet? How will I approach them?
Should I attend every session possible, or try to secure one-on-one meetings with important vendors and mentors?
To begin, make sure your elevator pitch is ready to go. Research has shown that brands often create content for their own needs and desires, ultimately failing to listen to what their audience really wants. Your brand message is the first exposure potential connections have to your organization at a conference. Make sure it’s about what they want and need, rather than all about you.
From there, look at your goals for attending the conference itself. Is it for networking? Education? Both? If you’re using the event as a learning experience, map out the sessions you want to attend, as well as questions to ask the presenter. Remember, even a learning experience can be grounds for networking. Take time to introduce yourself to the speaker afterward. Invite them out for coffee to further discuss a particular subject.
If you’re hoping to make it more of a networking event only, check out booth exhibitors in advance and prepare for after-hours events like happy hours or hosted gatherings produced by sponsors. If you can secure an attendee list, look for people you want to connect with and reach out ahead of time.
If there aren’t any events post-conference, plan your own and invite a list of key contacts. Not only will you build your own connections, you’ll provide value by introducing others. Making a proactive game plan will allow you to maximize your conference experience.
2. Look for connection opportunities
Conferences are full of opportunities to learn and grow as a professional. From sharing challenges to best practices, the value of others’ experiences cannot be understated.
However, there is also opportunity in a less formal setting to gain this type of knowledge. Critical and meaningful conversations can often happen outside of the conference setting, in social hours, group dinners and even networking halls.
The point is to look for opportunities as they present themselves. Intentional networking allows for open dialogue and fosters important conversation in a less controlled environment. When you’re meeting one-on-one with people, you can share more about your brand and strategy, as well as learn about a new connection and their goals.
There have been multiple opportunities at conferences where I have found large sponsors for SubSummit, simply by being present during break times or at after hours events. You never know when the opportunity will present itself.
3. Overcome your fear of failure
As you strive to make connections, there will be times that a potential deal falls through. That’s the nature of running a business. Knowing you will fail shouldn’t scare you. Instead, it should motivate you and empower you to learn from that missed opportunity.
Maybe it’s your elevator pitch. How can you better hone your message to make more of an impact when networking? Perhaps it’s simply not the right time for that person to sponsor your event or become an investor. What can you give them that will make you memorable for when they are ready?
Failure is inevitable — so embrace it, and move forward. The only thing worse than failing is never trying.
Networking in a conference setting gives your brand a face and energy, it builds community and develops connections. Conferences are a prime arena for fostering growth for your business. With a little bit of forward-thinking and preparation, you can make your event participation a success that goes far beyond Zoom meetings or being in the office.