In my previous blog post, I highlighted some recommended conferences in the Human Resources Industry to attend in the upcoming year.
Now that you have chosen a conference, booked a flight, paid for accommodation, and have your bags packed, I would like to share some advice to make the most out of the networking opportunities that these types of conferences present.
Conferences offer an excellent opportunity to network with like-minded professionals and expand your circle of contacts. However, it can be daunting to approach strangers and make small talk, especially if you’re attending a large event. In this article, we’ll share some tips and tricks on how to connect with fellow attendees, even before the conference begins, and how to make the most of your networking opportunities.
Connect with attendees before the conference
Many conferences provide an app or website that lists the speakers and attendees. This is an excellent resource to review and message anyone you would like to meet. Take the time to research each person you’re interested in connecting with and craft a personalised message to introduce yourself and request a meeting. By doing this, you’ll maximise your chances of establishing meaningful connections and get a head start on your networking.
If there is no conference app, check the conference website for featured speakers or attendees that you can connect with on LinkedIn. You may also consider reaching out to attendees via social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.
Another great way to network with attendees is to make connections while en route to the conference. You may be surprised to find that other attendees are travelling on the same plane or train as you. Use this opportunity to strike up a conversation and make a new contact. Even if you don’t end up sitting next to anyone from the conference, you may find other attendees on your journey.
Know your elevator pitch
You should know your elevator pitch and be prepared to adapt it slightly based on who you are speaking to. Make sure that the pitch includes brief information about who you are as well as a call to action that people might be able to help with. This could be something like, “My name is Hanna and I run a recruitment agency. I am here specifically to find a business partner.” Being specific helps the people you meet connect you with the right people to achieve your goals.
As well, you should also be prepared to answer common questions about your business and your experience related to your elevator pitch.
Be interested, not only interesting
One of the biggest mistakes people make at conferences is talking too much about themselves and their businesses. Remember, people engage with those who are interested in them and their experiences. Make sure to ask open-ended questions about the person you’re speaking to, their background, and their interests.
Listen actively to their responses, show genuine interest in their answers, and use this information to build a rapport. When you show interest in someone else, they’re more likely to remember you and want to connect with you again in the future.
Don’t be scared of strangers
It’s natural to feel hesitant about approaching strangers, but it’s essential to overcome this fear to make meaningful connections at conferences. To make it easier, put yourself in a position where starting a conversation is more natural.
For example, sit down next to someone at a meal and ask them about their lunch, or find out why someone has chosen a particular session while waiting in line to enter the lecture. These types of questions are great icebreakers and can often lead to more in-depth conversations about relevant topics.
Use social media
Most conferences have a conference hashtag, and there’s usually a Facebook or Instagram page dedicated to the event. Make sure to “like” these pages to stay up to date on casual meetups that aren’t part of the official schedule. Following the conference hashtags is another excellent way to see who’s attending and provide a method of starting conversations with fellow attendees.
Don’t be afraid to engage with others on social media. Comment on posts, share your own insights and experiences, and use social media to build a buzz around your participation at the conference.
While seemingly intuitive, the best way of networking at conferences is to be yourself. Make sure that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and develop your conference strategy accordingly.
For example, if you are introverted and prefer to have individual conversations with people at pre-arranged times, then spend time organising those meetings. If you are the type of person that enjoys being the centre of attention and drawing people to you, then do what you are good at and break the ice within groups of people.
Surveys after conferences often report that participants gained the greatest benefit not from the sessions they attended or the speakers they heard but from the people they met and the conversations they had. Do not miss out on this invaluable opportunity to connect with the people around you during these large scale events.