Recently I have been going to a lot of conferences. As I wrote two days ago, I will be attending the Future of Online Advertising in June. Also, I was at the Future of Web Apps in February and attended Podcamp NYC last weekend. Why on earth have I been attending so many damn conferences? One reason: to meet people. Keith Ferrazzi states it best in the book “Never Eat Alone”:

Those who use conferences properly have a huge leg up at your average industry gathering. While others quietly sit taking notes, content to sip their free bottled water, these men and women are setting up one-on-one meetings, organizing dinners, and, in general, making each conference an opportunity to meet people who could change their lives.

The best part of networking with people at conferences is that most of them are there to network as well. While I have met those that don’t see the value in conferences, there are plenty that realize this value and contribute to the cause. Also, networkers help other networkers because that is one of the most important aspects of networking (how many times will I say the word “network” or some derivative of it?) What I really mean is that networkers realize they are part of a community and being part of a community involves a little bit of give and take, but the number one component of being part of a community is participation. If you are there, then you are part of the community. In addition to Chris Brogan who has put forth a thorough list of networking tips, I thought I would put in my two cents and share with you what I think are the most important steps to effective networking at conferences.

  1. Offer your assistance to the organizer - Putting on an event is a ridiculously challenging task. I’m currently trying to put together a simple networking event and even that is challenging. Imagine trying to prepare an event where thousands of people will be attending and need hotel, restaurant, transportation reservations, and more! Bottom line, the event staff is understaffed and over worked. Offer your assistance and they will truly appreciate the effort. Who knows, you may even get a free ticket to the conference.
  2. Be a presenter - This is one of the most important attributes of a successful conference goer. All of the speakers are experts in their industry, and chances are that most of the attendees are as well but not all of them are speaking. To have been in the presenters shoes at some point helps you to sympathize with them and puts you on a better level to network with them. Although this is an important attribute do not go unprepared because it is worse to present an incomplete presentation than to not present at all. Work on creating the content for your presentation and then practice your presentation over and over again until you have perfected it. Once you have mastered the art of presenting, you are well on your way to success.
  3. Dress Well - This one is a no-brainer (or at least you would think so). Dressing well is highly important. When you dress well, people take notice and suddenly you become an center of influence within their environment. Look nice for the people and don’t forget to smile!
  4. Be personable - I don’t want to run through a laundry list of traits that make people personable but just to name a few: stand straight, be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, be a good listener, remember the other person’s name, and more. I covered most of these in my list of “The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs”. Also, if you really want to learn more on this you can go buy a copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
  5. Ask for business cards rather than dole them out - Chris Brogan covered this one in his post, and he states it well. “Only you can control contacting someone.” While this is true, I have been in the predicament of the person not having their business card. An aggressive networker would whip out a pen and write down their contact information. I chose to give them my card and luckily they contacted me. This is for you to decide how aggressive you want to be.
  6. Write down notes about the person on their card - I am a constant offender of this one. You go to an event, get a ton of cards, get home, and don’t remember who the people are even though you have their cards. All you have is a little reference that hopefully can spark your memory. Most likely you aren’t going to remember. So if you want to be the ultimate networking pro, step aside for 30 seconds after you meet the person and write down a unique thing about the person you just met. If you don’t have anything to write down, then they probably don’t remember anything unique about you, and hence no connection was made.
  7. Be brief - If you are at a large event, then spending large amounts of time on an individual is most likely not the best use of time. Occasionally you will have a strong connection with someone and it may be worth the extra time, but even still you can postpone part of the conversation to later (maybe over drinks perhaps?) Introduce yourself, learn a little about the person and what makes them unique, swap information, and move on. If you want to follow-up sooner, rather than later, that’s great, but don’t forget why you came to the conference in the first place.
  8. Be a connector - Rather than just leaving and giving a person the cold shoulder, there is an alternative exit strategy. Prior to leaving, introduce the person to someone else that you met earlier that is in your vicinity. It makes it less awkward for the person you were just speaking with if you introduce them to someone new rather than if they had to introduce them self to the next person on their own.
  9. Target the people you want to meet (networking with a purpose) - Prior to going to the event, list out a few of the people that you want to meet. You didn’t put in all the effort to come to the conference just to drink the coffee and listen to speakers lecturing you. You came here to meet people, and more than likely there is a certain type of person that you are looking to meet. So write down a few people that you want to meet and meet them. Once you’ve met the people, it is a small success and small successes add up to big ones.
  10. Follow up after the conference (soon after) - This is the most important part of being a successful conference attendee. Once you put in the effort to meet new people and learn a little bit about each of them, you need to let them know that you appreciate their time. Additionally, perhaps you can help that person in the future. (Notice that I said help them, not them help you).

Remember, networking takes practice but can pay off big time. Being part of the community is critical to success (both in business networking and in blogging) so get out there and be a part of it. Also, remember when you are attending these events it’s about how you can help other people, not how they can help you.