Don’t Hand Out Business Cards: And Other Counter-Intuitive Tips for Attending a Conference

It stuns me how many people mope their way into a conference. You’re out of the office! You’re in a room of like-minded people! You’re surrounded by opportunity!

So, psych yourself up. Remind yourself why you’re there. Is it to generate leads? Is it a junket? Personal growth? Professional education credits? Recruiting? Whatever the reason, approach it with this kind of enthusiasm. If you’re going to do something, DO IT.

Conference Networking Tips

Don’t be bashful

No matter your goal, it will be more productive and enjoyable if you do it with the other people there instead of standing on the sidelines. Since you’re meeting people, you might as well meet the right ones. Networking is like farming: you need to plant the seeds today to reap the harvest later.

So, firmly decide who you want to meet most. Is it the speakers, organizers, or tradeshow exhibitors? Write down their names and the times they are most likely available, and actively seek them out. Consider how you will be memorable to them. What could you say that will make you stick out in their mind later on? If you were hoping to learn something from them and you did, be specific and tell them how it resonated with you. Keep your conversation short but unforgettable. Then do an amazing job of following up – more on that in a bit.

Meet people, not business cards

When you find yourself chatting with a fellow conference attendee, remember to listen and connect with them on a personal level. Instead of “what do you do or who do you work for?” try asking, “What interesting new projects are you working on these days?” it will give you similar information, but at a deeper level.

Pay it forward

Great networkers are connectors. Don’t simply think to yourself how can I benefit from having met this person. Take a page from the book of great networkers. Figure out how to connect this person to someone else you know. Over time this spirit of generosity is remembered and rewarded.

Avoid generic LinkedIn invitations

Yes, it’s a personal pet peeve, but I’m going to call it a best practice. Customize your LinkedIn invite. Make yourself memorable and show the other person they were too. Keep the conversation going.

Reinforce your learning

People that take a few minutes to summarize key takeaways at the end of each session and again at the end of the day, stand a much better chance of retaining, and using, the information back at the office. Also, remember to ask a question at the end of a session. Doing so gets you great exposure to everyone that is there and it helps to clarify the learning for all present. Best practice way of asking? Stand. State your name, your company, your question, and then sit down. Don’t “hog the mike” or show off with how much you know. And remember, wear your name tag. Don’t make it awkward or difficult for others to figure out who you are later on.

Breakaway from the familiar

Not an extrovert? Set a goal of sitting at a table of strangers and have coffee with seven new people. At lunch time, sit at a completely different table. Seek out the people standing awkwardly at the side of the room during the break and introduce yourself. Draw them in. They’ll appreciate it and you will make a new, grateful connection. Don’t waste a minute at a conference; you don’t know who might be your next most important customer, referral, or employee.

Follow up

Connecting with new contacts after the conference is just as important as attending it. Follow up with those you’ve met right away and again within a few weeks. Everyone is as busy as you are. New leads and contacts quickly go cold (often within 48 hours). So follow up warmly and immediately with people you met. If you are connecting with presenters, mention the new concepts you learned.

No matter what the purpose of your attendance at a conference, using these best practices will ensure that you come away having met your personal and professional goals for the event.

Bellrock is a management consulting and change management firm where remarkable is expected. If you found this article valuable, don’t be stingy. Share!

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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