CONFERENCE NETWORKING TIPS

Conference Networking Tips

 

"Best part of the conference - - oh the NETWORKING!"  This is often a common refrain by conference attendees, not just International ACAC's annual event, but most professionals will often claim the No.1 aspect of a given proffesional development event is the chance to meet and share with colleagues.  Now the benefits of networking are not disputed, however it is the act of networking that often is taken for granted.  In fact just as many people likely will say how exhausting a conference is because of all the networking.  If the very thought of talking and puting yourself out there is making you sweat, here are a few helpful tips to get you prepared for the next International ACAC conference.

1. Do Your Homework

International ACAC publishes the attendee list, and this can be a fantastic resource for those that want take a few minutes to be prepared in advance of social gatherings. Search through the list for key contacts that you would like to meet for the first time, or to remind yourself of individuals you have met in the past and want to be sure to reconnect with. 

2. Don't Juggle Your Food and Watch out for Carrots

While most networking activities involve food and drink, you also want to have at least one hand free to shake hands and exchange business cards.  Its a small thing, but demonstrating that ease of poise can go a long way in first interactions. Don't be that person spilling chips and dip all over the floor.  Plus, be remember the manners your parents taught you: don't chew with your mouth open.  Think about those foods that can cause bad breath.  Keep your mouth fresh by sipping fresh drinks before conversations - water with lemon works great.  I always remember meeting my local candidate for Member of Parliament in a small volunteer gathering, she came up to me and shook my hand and said a few words with great enthusiasm.  Problem was, I couldn't get pass the smell of carrots on her breath as she chomped away in between sentences. Needless to say she didn't win.

3. Take Up a Power Position in a Room

If you don't want to be actively seeking out people to meet and greet, or working the room, one of the best areas to settle, is by a bar or food stand.  As people cycle through, this can be a great place to exchange pleasantries and not be stuck talking to the same people. Get there early, and you might even be able to grab a high-top table.  Another great space to linger is near the entrance, again as attendees come in you can simply smile and serve as an unofficial greeter.  Finally watch out for getting stuck at a sit-down table. 

4. Master of the Introduction

Always lead off with a clear introduction of your name, and institution or organization.  Don't be afraid to ask for other's names right off the top of conversation, or as you approach a new group.  When doing the round of introductions, say each individual's name and then your name again EACH TIME. It may feel repetitive, but likely the others in a circle aren't actually listening until it's there turn. Wear your name tag clearly, and if its on an adjustable lanyard, raise it higher to your chest so that it is easy to read.

5. It's All About Them - Not You

In conversations, ask great questions. Don't worry about long introductions on your behalf, but instead have a few great ice-breaker questions that are little different.  Instead of "how is your conference?" , try "what did you learn today?" or "what part of the schedule this week are you most looking forward to?" or "this is a crazy conference, what are you looking forward to for rest of the summer?"

6. Power of Three

Always be looking for groupings of three.  When working the room and dancing between conversations, the best groups to approach are those with three people. Typically there will be one person who is less engaged in the conversation, and you can connect with that person first.  Wait for a slight pause in conversation, introduce yourself and then let the original conversation continue.  Similarly if you are talking one-on-one with someone, try to invite a third person into the conversation who is wandering around the room. You'll be a hero for making introductions, and when its time to move on, you are able to gracefully exit without leaving anyone stranded alone.

7. Proper Use of Business Cards

It goes without saying that to network properly, you should always have a healthy stack of business cards.  Never lead off with passing of business cards, but wait until the appropriate time and a connection has been established.  When someone passes you a business card, take a minute to write a note on the back, perhaps where you met them, or a way to actively follow up. If you forget names and faces, think about taking a note of a physical identifier that will help you remember what the person looks like for future.  These notes will not only help you post-conference get the most out of your connections, but will demonstrate to the other person that you are listening and care about the relationship. 

8. Partner up with a Wing Man

Think about attending an event with a wing-man (of either gender), someone who you can help each other introduce to others, and can find common ground with in conversations. Working a room with a partner can also bring additional fun to an event, think about some games to challenge one-another in advance, for instance: who can meet the most "Michaels", first person to introduce themselves to a man wearing a bow-tie, or woman wearing a scarf.  Gamify the networking experience. 

9. Say their Name, Say their Name. 

One of the simplest ways to express interest in another person, and make them feel good about themselves, is to say their name.  Use the other person's name frequently in conversation - even to the point that it feels a little unnatural.  Bonus: by saying a name several times it will help you remember it in the future.

10. Follow-Up

Put time in your calendar after the conference to go through the new contacts, and draft messages.  Group cards into different events and write similar messages based on where you first met people.  It doesn't have to be an in depth message, but a simple timely follow-up message will go along way in establishing a lasting and beneficial relationship.

No matter what : Smile and Have Fun Out There!

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