Over the past 5 years, I have attended, on average, one event per week. For those who attend conferences and trade shows often, networking can become mundane. We get used to doing the same thing over and over: from quick chats between meetings in designated coffee/beverage areas, to huge parties thrown at local nightclubs by conference sponsors. Each morning, we get up and do it all over again. Due to the repetitious nature of conferences, I do not enjoy them as much as I used to anymore, and I am sure many of you are in the same boat.
During the past 6 months, I have changed up my routine to make conference networking something I enjoy. With just a little bit of planning, I have been able to change my perception about networking and get 10 times more return out of every conference I attend.
Here are some of the ways you can make this happen:
1. Throw a small meetup. Renting out a bar or restaurant — or even a hotel room — to host a conference meetup can be quite expensive, with really no ROI guarantee. However, you can achieve many of the same goals of hosting a conference event (without the cost) by hosting a meetup. Simply call a few local bars and restaurants and ask for some specials on food and drinks (do not ask to reserve a space), create an event on Facebook or Eventbrite and spread the word via conference social channels. Keep the meetup informal and limit it to around 20-to-30 people. This allows the right setting to establish deeper connections but does not tarnish your reputation if it does not go so well.
2. Hit the hotel bar. Every conference has a nearby watering hole. Pick the closest one to the conference and “belly up” to the bar. As attendees come and go, you will have an easy opportunity to strike up a conversation. However, remember that you are at the bar for business, so make sure to not go overboard with the booze.
3. Go “hashtag hunting.” The key to conference hashtag use is not in what you tweet, but rather what you observe being tweeted. Scan conference hashtags often during your conference to search for small gatherings at nearby restaurants, bars and attractions. Searching conference hashtags can lead you to more networking opportunities — including small meetups, unpublicized events or just connecting with conference attendees you would not otherwise have met.
4. Leave your lanyard on. As long as you are near the conference, you should have your lanyard with your conference badge on. Though it is slightly embarrassing (like leaving stickers on new jeans), rocking your lanyard will let other attendees easily identify you and can lead to some easy networking opportunities — like a quick chat while you wait in line at Starbucks or an exchange of elevator pitches in an actual elevator!
5. Read non-verbal cues. Not everyone at a conference is looking to connect, but it can be easy to find people who are looking to network just by their posture, how they are standing, who they are standing with and other non-verbal cues. Networking is not always easy or fun. Hopefully the tips above will yield you some new business and add some flavor to your typical networking routine.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
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