Nowadays you go to conferences and the networking includes tweeting and wondering if anyone is going to ask you to ‘bump’ to exchange contact information. While there are nightcap gatherings, yoga sessions and cool looking meet up lounges and cafes, there are still some tried and true rules that work when it comes to networking at conferences.
1. Dress for the ride.
How many people roll out of bed for that 6 a.m. flight to their conference, throw on their most comfy sweats and leave the house partially groomed? Not a good idea. Why? The obvious reason is that you may see other attendees or co-workers (bosses!) on the same flight. Even if you dodge that bullet, you will see other attendees in the lobby of the hotel when you are checking in—guaranteed.
2. Come prepared to look awesome.
While you may not know exactly what others will be wearing to the conference, you can always check out the previous year’s conference on the web to get an idea. There are often photos of the events. Read the program to see if there will be a gala or awards dinner so you won’t be caught with your Birkenstocks and cargo pants. Rule: you never want to be the worst dressed, or second worst dressed person, at any networking event. Actually, a better policy is to aim for the other end of the spectrum.
3. Be nice to the nerds and wallflowers.
They could be the cool kids. It is just good karma to rescue people who are standing by themselves. It’s not high school anymore so being a wallflower doesn’t signify ‘nerd alert’. Once we rescued a wallflower at the World Economic at Davos and it turned out to be Jaron Lanier, only one of the coolest guys on the planet.
4. Toss your security blanket, Linus!
We all arrive at conferences with our personal security blankets, our smart phones. That way, during the breaks it’s pretty easy to look very important talking on your phone or texting away: “Sorry, too busy to talk to you folks, got way more important things to do than talk to you.” Unless your IPO is about to launch or your office is on fire, put away your phone. Even super cool TED tells you to put away your phone and your computer.
5. They aren’t old-fashioned; they’re necessary.
Going to a conference without business cards, or with only a handful, is not a wise idea. Bring a box of business cards (more if you are participating in a trade show) and don’t put all your business cards in your checked luggage. Carry some with you.
6. Never say this!
“Sorry, I left my cards up in my room.” The number of times we’ve heard this response as we have given out our business card at conferences is kind of stunning. There’s a super easy solution to this problem. Hang you nametag on your door handle in your hotel room and put a big stash of cards in the back of the plastic holder. You can’t forget them that way.
7. Don’t listen to your Mom. Talk to strangers.
Avoid the conference indifference stare. When you are walking down the hall at a conference, make eye contact with the other person and smile. When you get in the elevator and see the other person’s name tag, start a conversation. “How do you like the conference.” “Did you hear that last presentation?” When people walk by your breakfast table looking for a place to sit, say “Please join us.”
-Darcy Rezac, Judy Thomson and Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, authors, Work The Pond!
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