I had a lovely time speaking about personal leadership last night at the National Association of Women in Construction, Coastal Georgia chapter. One of the attendees asked for advice on how to work a room. How to network in a roomful of strangers at a conference. Here’s how. It’s easier with a plan.
Network Your Way Around A Room
Part 1 (today) and Part 2 (tomorrow) of this post will explain how to approach and network with strangers at conferences in gracious, natural, nonthreatening ways that will lead to natural, productive conversations. If you’re nervous, memorize and execute the steps. I’m good at working my way around a room, and I use these steps.
Let’s Get Started
While it’s possible to network and even enjoy yourself at a meeting you haven’t prepared for, to try to network with no preparation won’t be very productive. You won’t be very effective. Which means you’ll do a poor job.
It’s common sense: when you know you’re not going to be effective or productive at the reception, you’re not likely to go. If you do go, you’ll be nervous. You’re not likely to relax or network very well.
So give yourself a leg up. Do what successful networkers do: (1) make preparations ahead of time and (2) make a plan. In under 25 minutes.
- Make it a lot easier on yourself: load up on information ahead of time.
- Two weeks before the conference, take 1 minute to write down the kind of attendees this conference will attract.
- Take 1 more minute to write down exactly who is likely to be there, and not likely to be there, based on the conference’s topic and the way it’s been marketed. Are they people you need to meet?
- Take 4 minutes and go to the conference website and to lanyrd.com to check who’s attending, who’s speaking, and read their bios. Two more minutes to check out past attendee lists, the current attendee list, and scan slide decks from this conference and past conferences at lanyrd.com.
- Add 8 minutes: What do LinkedIn and Twitter say about the conference?
- Do your LinkedIn groups know about this conference? Do they recommend it? Are they going? Have you asked? Have you asked group members for advice about what to see and whom to meet at this particular conference?
- That’s 16 minutes. From what you’ve learned, is this a conference you should be attending? Or is your time better spent on the next one?
- If you should attend this conference, then let’s get to it!
Make a Conference Network Plan. Take 5 minutes. Write your conference plan:
- From your prep work, list 3 people you absolutely want to speak with at the conference, in priority order. Write out your specific question to each person; this is very important.
- Make contact with those 3 people ahead of time, about 10 days before the conference. A brief, gracious email is fine; find their email on Google, LinkedIn, or lanyrd.com. Have a mutual acquaintance introduce you via email or LinkedIn, if you can.
- Invite them to coffee or a drink at the conference, or mention the session where you can introduce yourself. Mention a mutual acquaintance, something you have in common, or a question about the session. Invite them to check your LinkedIn profile, and to be back in touch.
- You can also use a Direct Message on Twitter or a message or Introduction Request on LinkedIn. Just don’t use all these routes.
Make an After-Conference Network Plan. Take 4 minutes.
- You already know the best advice for following up after a conference: get in touch the next day and stay in regular touch.
- Block time in your calendar NOW for getting in touch the next day. Here’s the big take-away here and the huge advantage of your Conference Network Plan:
- Your plan called for you to meet only 3 important people. The day after the conference, it will take less than 10 minutes to email or message all 3 people. Block out that time on your calendar now.
- Block time on your calendar now to connect afterwards with any and all attendees on LinkedIn. Use lanyrd.com to help.
- Champion networkers go one step further now. For the email they’ll use after the conference to get in touch the first time, they prepare a skeleton email now, leaving blanks they’ll fill in later. The skeleton email is a cinch to write since a champion networker already knows what session or reception they met the person at, and question they asked the person. They can even mention they were in touch before the conference! Note: a champion networker prepares the skeleton email now, before the conference. Preparing it now removes one more roadblock to the all-important follow-up afterwards.
- Block time in your calendar now to get in touch with the person about every 3 weeks. Write in your calendar now the industry subject, event, or mutual acquaintance you’ll mention in that future email. Change these reminders to yourself as events change.
By the way, if you meet, have a productive conversation with, and successfully and graciously stay in touch with even one of the important people you wrote down in your pre-plan, that will be a success. Most people don’t do that.
These are the first 3 steps. Now you’re ready to go to the conference, put your Plan into action and get a return on the money and time you’re spending on the conference. You’ve thought through the event and you’re ready to do a fine job, and get a good return.