If you’re gearing up for an upcoming conference, you’re probably already thinking about all the awesome and inspiring people you’re going to meet—and all the ways they can help your career. Networking is crucial to developing your little black book of business contacts, but it’s not as simple as shaking hands and kissing babies. Before you try to network by the seat of your pants, check out these handy tips to help you make the most of your meet-and-greet opportunities.
1. Lock in a target.
Unless you want to wander aimlessly in search of someone who seems important, you need to start thinking like a champion. Top athletes always do their homework—and so do smart networkers. But instead of reviewing game tape, you’ll be looking into the conference’s list of attendees to determine which ones best fit your professional needs. Then, reach out to these people digitally—and if you can, meet them face-to-face—before the conference. That way, you’re not making a brand new connection at the actual event, but rather deepening a budding professional relationship.
2. Bring a full deck of cards.
Business cards, that is. You should keep a few of these on you at all times, but at a conference, they’re even more important. If you don’t have them with you, you’ll have to resort to writing your name and number on a cocktail napkin—which doesn’t exactly jibe with the professional image you want to project—or risk folks forgetting you altogether. Also, remember to bring—and send—thank-you cards. Not sure why? Don’t worry; we’ll come back to this point later.
3. Don’t stay in one place.
If you stick to one corner or one table, you’ll only get to know the folks who come around you. No one ever said networking was easy. After all, you can’t spell “network” without “work,” right? So, get off your fanny and work it, girl (or guy). Move around the room and get to know as many people on your list (see item number one) as you can. Already done? Don’t sit on the sidelines; get out of your comfort zone and expand your connection horizons.
4. Take notes.
You don’t need to bust out a giant legal pad during every conversation, but you will want to jot down a few key pieces of information about your new contacts. Ideally, you should snag their business cards—and write your notes on the back—so you can refer back to them later. In addition to recording information about who each person is and what he or she does, you should write down any pertinent advice the person gave you. If he or she made any promises or offers, be sure to note those as well. Not only will this help you analyze the success of your networking mission, but it also will help you assemble organized, thoughtful follow-up correspondence.
5. Follow up.
A short and sweet email should do the trick for most of your new networking contacts, but a sincere handwritten note of gratitude is a wise gesture for those folks who gave you stellar advice or went out of their way to speak with you. Some of your peers likely will skip this step, but you should never discount the value of adhering to the oft-forgotten rules of etiquette.
Whether you’re seeking new job leads, exposure to potential clients, referral connections, or opportunities to grow your practice, a conference is the perfect time and place to meet key influencers and leaders in your industry. With these tips, you can look forward to scoring top-notch contacts at your next conference, cocktail party, or mixer.