Vicki’s Top 10 Tips for Effective Networking at Industry Events
26 May 2015
→ Vicki Smith Bigham, Conference Manager, EdNET Conference
“Networking” could be my middle name! I love to meet new people and love to connect people that I know. And having spent over 40 years in this industry, I have been to more than my share of networking events—and have managed more than a few!
But I appreciate that not everyone finds it easy to walk into events where you may have objectives for networking but are less comfortable with how to realize them and make the desired connections. David Letterman had his top 10 lists, and now here are my own top 10 tips for how to effectively network at our many education industry events.
If there are forms, directories, or files profiling those who will be attending the event, be sure you take time to complete them. This is how people know you will be there and how they will find you. Be clear about your company and any networking objectives you have. What are your needs? Interest areas? Priorities for attending? And if you have the opportunity to add a picture, do that too. Don’t you hate the LinkedIn profiles with no picture? Make it easy for people to connect with you.
Who are you looking for—content partners? Investment partners? Distribution partners? Service providers, such as recruiters, marketing and PR specialists, and product development teams? Education leaders? Publications or associations? Others? Search any lists or directories available before the event to target your list of prospects. You don’t need to meet the most people—just the right people. Build your calendar, schedule 1:1 appointments, participate on message boards, and more!
Start the networking before you get to the event by letting people know you’re attending. Post your own conference badge on your website or in your social media posts to indicate your plans to attend, and let people know if you have a special role at the event, such as speaker, sponsor, or advisory board member.
Connect with a colleague, find a corner where you can talk, and make good use of your time. Check out the hotel or other conference venue ahead of time, and try to identify one or two good meeting locations other than “at the registration desk.” The space around the registration desk as the focal point for many can get very crowded. Be on time for the appointments you schedule, and shortly before you are scheduled to meet, text a quick note that you are in a red dress or a plaid sports shirt.
For some, having four in-depth meetings with targeted people and firms fill the bill. For others, connecting with a number of people, exchanging information, and following up after the conference proves more productive. Your colleagues at industry events are busy with their own objectives. When you find someone you wish to meet, consider a brief connection that might quantify how much time you need; e.g., “Could I have two minutes of your time to discuss this one thought?” or introduce yourself and say you will follow up next week to discuss your interest in the company’s offerings.
How are the event organizers communicating? Tweet using the conference hashtag, and as the conference nears, follow others contributing to conversations. “Like” the event and join colleagues on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in discussions and get timely information. See if the conference is photo sharing on Flickr and share your own photos. Tracking topics of interest to other participants will provide you with more meaningful conversation starters at the event. Monitoring the conference hashtag while at the event will let you monitor what other participants are talking about.
Be prepared. Bring literature about your company and offerings. And don’t forget those business cards! Other items which should be obvious on your must-have list include phone and other device chargers.
What do you most want to learn? Review the full schedule and note sessions of key interest so you don’t miss them. Do you have a question to pose to speakers on one or more sessions? Investigate whether you can submit your top-of-mind questions to speakers in advance of sessions.
Definitely plan ahead but also be willing to put yourself in a different situation—have lunch with people you don’t know, walk up to someone standing alone at a reception, walk right up to that stranger (only because you have not yet met) and introduce yourself—you might find a new opportunity.
And my #1 tip for successful conference networking…
Forget what your parents told you about never talking to strangers! A stranger is simply someone you have not yet met. Be confident—walk up and say hello! To be a good networker, you don’t have to be the best conversationalist. You do have to be willing to stick your neck out a little. Just be yourself and ask an easy question, such as: How long have you been coming to this event? What is your primary objective this week? What were your takeaways from that last session? May I join you? And consider what you can say about your company or product in a sentence or two that will grab attention and help you be remembered.
Join Vicki and the EdNET team in Atlanta, October 4-6, 2015, and bring your networking skills. You won’t find a better place to use them!
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Vicki Smith Bigham serves as Conference Manager for MDR’s EdNET Conference, a B2B forum for senior executives in the PreK-12 school market. For 27 years, the EdNET team has worked to deliver what has proven to be a strong program focused on the latest information on market trends, business partnering opportunities, funding sources, new technologies, and activities of key market players. But when all is said and done, those who attend EdNET year after year will usually tell you they can’t miss EdNET because of the networking. The team is proud that EdNET is regarded in the market as the premier business networking event—participants are there to connect, to partner, and to forge relationships.