Close your eyes. Imagine yourself on the first day of a networking conference. As you walk into the room, you are surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds, of attendees just milling about. Some are already engaged in lively conversation. Others are off by themselves, sitting in chairs, waiting for the first morning session to start. You know you are here to make contacts. That’s why you came! But, the thought of it now, taking the first step to introduce yourself to someone new in the crowd, fills you with dread. Your legs feel heavy. So, you find a chair and sit down to wait for the session to start, telling yourself you’ll do better once the day starts, and you’ve warmed up.
Does this sound familiar? Then, you may be an introvert like me. Taking the first step to get to know someone new can be a daunting task at times, especially in a crowd at a conference. I have attended many such conferences in my career, and I have learned some things along the way that I hope will help you as much as they’ve helped me.
#1. Take a deep breath.
You can do this. Take some deep breaths, literally. Get the oxygen flowing. Get up early, have a good breakfast. Drink a good cup of coffee or tea. Prepare yourself mentally for the day. For me, I like to get up early to read a passage from my Bible and pray. For you, it might be something different. Talk to yourself (silently, of course). Tell yourself you can do this, even though it is hard. Think positive thoughts. Coach yourself like you might coach a close friend facing the same challenge.
#2. Make use of networking tools.
Many conferences make use of networking tools such as TalkB2B.net to schedule one-on-one meetings with other attendees in advance. I recently attended the IT Conference Banja Luka 2018 which used this tool. Attendees can browse the profiles of other attendees and contact those whom interest them. In lieu of a tool like TalkB2B, there is always LinkedIn.com. If you know the names of some people you would like to connect with at the conference, see if they have a LinkedIn account and reach out to them in advance. Send a nice note with your request, explaining that you will be at the conference and would like to connect with them.
#3. Prioritize in advance.
After you have done your research and have short list of the people you would like to meet, prioritize them. Who is most important to you and why? Make a mental roadmap or checklist and seek them out. Remember, you’ve contacted them in advance, so they will be expecting you. This will help you cut through the crowd and gives your networking more aim and purpose.
#4. Prepare some topics to discuss.
Think ahead about the topics you would like to discuss with the people you meet. You might try rehearsing what you would like to say. Choose topics for which you are a subject-matter expert (SME), or those where you have a vested interest or passion – topics that touch on the core of your current business or projects. This is the oil that will help your words flow once the conversation is started. When you meet someone, open the conversation with one of these topics you’ve prepared.
#5. Make use of meal time.
Meal times are an excellent opportunity to get some focused one-on-one or small group time with your contacts. Invite them to lunch or dinner. Use the break times in between conference sessions to grab a coffee with someone. Keep it casual. Get to know them as a person. Ask open ended questions about their backgrounds and careers. Show genuine interest, and let them talk. Most people love to talk about themselves. This is a time for you to talk less and listen more. Of course, be prepared to talk about yourself as well if your contacts ask about your background and career.
I hope these tips will be as helpful for you as they have been for me. Happy networking!