Developing a strong professional network has become one of the key prerequisites for professional success. For successful networking you need people, and there is no better way for meeting successful, like-minded people than attending high-quality conferences.
One such conference is Spark.Me – one of the biggest tech/business conferences in the Balkans. We are especially proud of our choice of speakers, one of which has even been recognised as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Combined with people interested in technology, business and innovation that will be coming from all over the region, I have no plans to miss it, and I suggest you don’t either!
While sometimes just listening to lectures is enough to light your spark of imagination, you can make the most out of conferences by connecting with people that will open you to new ideas and new opportunities. If nothing else, you can meet like-minded people you can grab a coffee with every now and then and talk about something you feel passionate about.
Here are my 5 networking tips for total conference domination:
1) Research speakers ahead of time and make a connection.
The first thing I do before attending any conference is to research speakers and the agenda. That way I can choose which lectures to go to and which ones to skip in order to pursue something with the biggest ROI on my time. Also, even before reserving your ticket you have to set your networking goals – what you want to gain from being at the conference.
Just being at the conference, surrounded by so many unknown people and new ideas can be a little overwhelming, without the additional pressure of having to make valuable connections while you are there. Make your job easier by researching speakers and making notes on lectures you think would be valuable for you. Get their attention by engaging with them on social media before and during the conference.
Share your excitement about the fact that you will have the opportunity to hear them in person or genuinely compliment them after their speech. If you want to meet them, the best way is to send them a DM on Twitter after the initial connection has been made and ask for a couple of minutes of their time.
Figure out the value you can provide to them and then go and offer it.
2) Use social media to connect with other attendees beforehand.
Nowadays, every conference aims to establish an online presence and they have (at least) a Facebook Page and a Twitter profile all set up. They use designated hashtag to spread the word about the conference and build a community around it. Spark.Me’s conference hashtag is #SparkMe. Use that to connect with other attendees.
It will be much easier to approach people at the conference if you make some sort of connection before the event. It doesn’t have to be anything special. For the start just tweet that you will be attending. By tweeting something like:
So excited to be going to #SparkME! Looking forward to amazing speakers and sunny weather! Tweet me if you’ll be there!
you will be inviting people to reach out and setting the stage to approaching them on the site. More advanced technique is setting up a Twitter list of people using the hashtag so you can follow their tweets and join the conversation when you spot an opportunity.
3) Do skip a panel or two but never miss a party!
Most of the times, the best networking opportunities are not in the conference hall but outside of it. Do not hesitate to skip a panel or two if you think you could gain more by hanging out in the break room and striking a casual conversation with people you find there – a speaker that just finished his speech and needs a moment, a sponsor you might work with in the future, a fellow attendee who shares your love for mint tea.
Also, make sure you apply for as many side activities as possible. Parties, cocktails, sightseeing trips and cruises are a great way to meet people in informal setting and they are intentionally designed to encourage mingling between attendees.
BONUS TIP: Most of networking happens on the first day of the conference. It’s a time when we are all feeling a little lost and actively looking for people to connect with. Use that first day to strike a conversation with as many people as possible, and then deepen the connection during the consecutive days of the conference.
4) Prepare your elevator pitch.
As you go around meeting people, you will be asked why are you at the conference and what are you doing in general. It is very important to have an answer ready.
Look at it as your elevator pitch. You are meeting someone for the first time and you have only one opportunity to make a positive and lasting impression. To do that you have to express the value you can provide to them in as little words and minutes as possible. They do not want to hear about your life history, they want to know why meeting you at Spark.Me is valuable to them. So get practicing.
Explain in a few sentences where you are working at the moment, your role in the company, value you provide for them and your aspirations. Be concise, be brief, and be different!
5) Make room for a lot of business cards and follow up!
Another important thing to remember is that no matter your networking goals for the conference, you are not there to distribute your business cards; you are there to collect them. That way you control with whom you want to stay in touch with.
Since you will be meeting a lot of people, take time to write down on a card you were given when and how you met its owner and over which topics you connected. That way you will be able to add a more personal message to your follow up e-mail. And you have to send a follow up e-mail, or at least make a connection via LinkedIn.
Above all else, the most important thing when attending a conference is to set concrete networking goals in advance and be open to meeting new people and hearing new ideas. If you follow these simple tips, I am sure your time at Spark.Me will be a true success. See you there!