Often, our mentality at business conferences and expos is that we’re there to take away something, whether it’s information, education or free samples. But don’t overlook the potential for making connections that will further your endeavors down the road. Conferences and expos offer prime opportunities for networking, and if you’re not intentional about it, you might overlook many of the ways you can make new contacts and get the word out about your business.
I have four suggestions to help you with your networking skills at conferences and shows. If you apply the tips in these suggestions, you’ll find you gain a whole new level of networking at these events.
- Make new friends. Conferences offer a great opportunityfor making new connections. If you attend the conference with an associate or friend, don’t hang out only with them during the event. Mix it up! Challenge each other by coming back together only when you’ve each met 10 new businesspeople and have their cards. Be sure to take at least two of each new contact’s cards and share them with your associate. In effect, this doubles the number of contacts you’ll both come away with. Be sure to speak with the people on either side of you. Break out of the tendency to just make that friendly nod and smile. If you also say, “Hi, my name is …” while stretching your hand forward for a handshake, the other person will automatically do the same. Always ask for the business card of the person you’ve just met–and don’t forget one for the friend you’re attending with. Before moving on to the next new contact, note the name and date of the event on the back of the card, as well as anything that will help you remember the person later.
- Meet the competition. Expos are events where you can meet scores of people if you have a booth. But don’t forget about mixing and meeting the other exhibitors as well. They’re all there to generate new business and meet new contacts, just like you are. Many times, I’ve seen more new business realized from the other exhibitors at the show than from the people attending. During the show, take time to go from booth to booth to meet the other exhibitors, collect their cards and give them yours as well. These are the people you’ll want to follow up with first after the event.
- Let your voice be heard. What I recommend is, when you attend a conference for the first time, make it a point to introduce yourself to the person responsible for booking the topics and speakers for next year’s event. Begin developing a relationship with this individual for the next year now.
- Be social. If the expo you’re planning to attend puts on a mixer or other networking event, don’t miss it! These types of events are wonderful ways to make initial contact with people you’ve never met before. It pays to be there…many times over!
Don’t view these events as the chance to close a deal, but rather as the chance to take the first step down the long, profitable road of friendship and mutual benefit with a new word-of-mouth marketing partner. The most important thing I can impart to you is that you must approach this with a sense of wanting to learn as much as you can about the other people you’ll meet instead of trying to tell them all about you.
Of course, all of this good advice is worthless if you don’t engage in the critical follow-up process after the event. So plan a time you can make a phone call, schedule a lunch meeting or set up an e-mail exchange by way of following up.
Keep these points in mind when you have the chance to attend a conference or a expo, and you’ll make the most of a great opportunity.
Plan to attend the Business Before Hours at 8:15 am on Saturday.
Networking for vendors only!