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10 tips about Networking at Conferences


Recently I visited a Conference about Sport Nutrition. Being a ‘Facilitator for Innovation Processes’ mainly working for innovative Foods companies I was hoping to find new clients. Networking is not my favourite thing to do. But, I know I have a good product to sell. So, there we go. It was a great day with lots of contacts. Meanwhile I learned a couple of things about networking at a Conference. I am sharing these 10 tips with you, hoping it will help you next time you are bound for a networking occasion.

Tip 1: Select names & ask for help

Because I knew none of the participants, I studied the attendance list and decided who I wanted to talk to: I selected the ‘Innovation Managers’. In the breaks I asked other participants to help me to find the persons I wanted to talk to. Sometimes I even got stuck with the person trying to help me! At the end of the Conference I talked with all the persons I selected from the attendance list and we exchanged business cards. A job well done!

Tip 2: Correct job description on attendance list

While going through the attendance list, I found my name with the description ‘Facilitator’. My tip is to make sure that, when you are subscribing to go to a Conference,  to add a job description in such a way that others know what is your job. I could for example have written ‘Facilitator Innovation Processes’.  Lateron at lunch I was talking with my neighbour and he said “Ah, so you are the facilitator on the attendance list! Now I understand what you mean by that.”. You know, people do read these lists, so you better be on it with the right information. And do I need to tell you how stupid I was to only mention my company name as ‘MCCIM’;  nobody had a clue what that means!

Tip 3; Find stand-aloners

At the Conferences there may be people who have nobody to talk to (the stand-aloners), or people at  stands who are eager for visitors. So I introduce myself to stand-aloners and I visit the stands who have no visitors. Some were really interested in my line of business and we exchanged business cards. That is an easy catch!

Tip 4: Know how to start a discussion

I am proud of my own Consultancy and I know I have helped a lot of innovation project teams with good advice. So, when asked “What line of business are you in?” I replied “I have a Consultancy for Innovation Management”.  And then I just could see the other person’s eyes go blank: “Oh my God, not another Consultancy!”.  So, I changed my story. I replied “I am a facilitator helping organizations to establish a creative culture”. And then that started off a good discussion about creativity.

Tip 5: Have your pitch reach

Pitch, pitch, pitch. You have less than 2 seconds to make a first impression, and less than 15 seconds to pitch. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. So, have your pitch ready, plus:  examples of work done, plus name-dropping of companies you worked for, plus some convincing sentences of why they need to choose for you. And then don’t forget to pop the question: “Would you see this to be a benefit for your company?”

Tip 6: Keep a record

Because I know I will forget by the time I am home: I kept a record of people I talked with. On the attendance list or on the business card I noted ‘during 1st break at stand’ or ‘during lunch sitting opposite of me’ or ‘during afternoon break at coffee’ or ‘at dinner next to me’. In that way I remember who I talked to, when and where.

Tip 7: Have a good closure

Each discussion must have a good closure. Preferably you agree to contact each other, but overall I was happy to reach the stage where we exchanged business cards and say “Thank you for your time”.

Tip 8: Bring more business cards

Normally at networking meeting you might exchange 5-10 business cards. At this Conferences the participants were exchanging business cards like crazy! I brought a handful of them, but at the end of the day I had none left. So my tip is to bring more business cards then you could ever imagine you are going to need.

Tip 9: Relax

Not every discussion should be about finding new business. Social talk is as helpful to relax and bond. So yes, we talked about the weather, plus the usual social-talk questions: ‘where are you from? , ‘when did you arrive?’, ‘are you staying in this hotel?, ‘will you leave after the conference or stay longer to enjoy The Netherlands? , etc.

Tip 10: Smile!

Even though after some talks you find yourself with no new leads at all, make sure to look confident, professional and smile!

I hope to have helped you with these tips.

My next action is to will follow up on all the leads and business cards in the coming days. I do hope to find a new client. If so, then that Conference day was a day well spent.

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