Conferences can be intimidating – whether you’ve been to them in the past or not. Here are some fool proof tips for conference newbies and veterans alike.
Know your audience. What type of conference is it? Who will be there? Professionals? Peers? Students?
Make a hit list. Who do you want to connect with? Note any presenters or attendees that you really want to connect with and make them a priority.
Bring business cards (and have a resume waiting in the wings). It is not always appropriate to go doling out your resume to everyone you meet – but business cards are universally welcome in a conference setting. Don’t have any? Try Vista Print – you can order 250 for the price of shipping. Pick a clean, minimalist design and get printing. BUT, if someone asks for your resume, be prepared to share a hard copy or send it via email.
Don’t carry anything in your hands (if you need to have anything with you, it should be in a bag). If you’re loaded with stuff it might be awkward to shake hands or converse with people. It may also make you seem closed off or busy.
Focus on the other person. This isn’t about you. It’s about them. So make the other person feel as if you’re genuinely interested (and you should be!). Ask them questions, let the conversation flow.
Be yourself! You’re trying to build relationships with people at organizations that make sense for you. It’s important to be authentic – you want to make in roads at places that are a good fit.
Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. Connect with presenters and attendees alike on LinkedIn. Follow them on Twitter. Send a “thank you for chatting” email post-conference.
At a break point or have some down time? Don’t take out your phone and surf the web! Interact. If everyone was sitting on their phones the whole time, no one would make connections.
See someone hanging out alone? Go over and say hi. If you’re in a group and you see someone alone, ask them to join. Either way, you’re making someone feel included and welcome.
Go to the pre-prescribed social activities: fun run, city outing, etc. This is a no-brainer! Structured fun = easy networking opportunity.
Making eye contact and smiling is always a good move. It makes you seem approachable and welcoming. Who doesn’t want to know someone who is approachable and welcoming?
Does the conference have an app? Can you talk to other attendees on it? Use it. You may be able to make connections through the app and then meet-up in-person, removing some of the anxiety. Same goes for a Twitter hashtag – chat with people through this, follow them, and then meet in-person.
Dress for the occasion. Ask around to see what the conference vibe is – sometimes it’s OK to wear shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Most of the time it’s not. Do your homework and dress the part.
Practice your handshake. No dead-fish hands! No vice grips! Nice and firm does the trick.
Went alone? Find a conference buddy and tag team. You can play off each other when networking and it may ease your anxiety.
If you have the time to prepare, submit a presentation/talk/poster – people will come to you!
Take breaks to rest and re-energize. You know yourself best. Need a 2 PM nap? Take it. Need to have some alone time before a night on the town? Do it.
PACK SNACKS. I cannot stress this enough. Being hangry at a conference is the absolute worst.
Wear comfortable shoes (but still dressy). You end up standing and walking more than you think you will, so wearing the right shoes is critical.
Relax. Take a deep breath. And go for it. What do you have to lose? If you don’t make any connections, you’re right back where you started. But I guarantee you, if you utilize these tips, you will do some awesome networking.