Conferences are great opportunities for you to break out of the bubble you, and perhaps even your company may find yourself in from to time to time. Thing is though, for you to make the most of a conference you should be doing more than simply attending the talks and making notes. You should be networking with your fellow industry professions – your peers. This doesn’t always come naturally to everyone though. And in larger conferences especially it can be harder to connect with those outside of your party.
So here are some tips to get you on your way to making connections.
Your motivation behind interaction
When approaching people, don’t always make it your aim to get a number or email address. Not only can it be obvious to others that all you’re trying to do is make a business contact, but this isn’t always what you need. Sometimes just making an impression, making some friendly comments, or having a laugh is better than exchanging business cards. Remember that it’s very possible you’ll be seeing these people again later down the road, either in the work environment or at future conferences, and it would be good to be remembered as a friendly face.
Feel free to approach people yourself
While there are those who are brazenly confident and able to converse with ease anyone they come across, there are many others who maybe like you, tend towards introversion or shyness. So just remember that in many cases, people would be more than happy for you to be the one to initiate contact. You don’t have to wait for people to make the first move. They very well might appreciate you doing it. If you’re still nervous of walking up to people and start making conversation, then come prepared…
Do your homework
Much like you would do some research before a board meeting or a business presentation, do some research before the conference. That way you can have a stock of relevant questions, points or ideas to bring up when you can’t think of anything else to say. For instance, if you know who is attending, or what companies they’ll be representing, you could do some background as to what they’re involved in – giving you something relevant to bring up in conversation. Look into who the keynote speakers are, what the roundtable discussion will be, what companies are affiliated with the conference, and what topics will be under discussion. Also try to do some background into what’s happening in the industry. Even if it’s not immediately related to your field, it may be related to someone else’s, giving you a convenient topic for discussion that goes beyond the trivial and mundane small talk. Also, look into whether or not the conference organisers make any industry research materials available. For instance, if you’re going to an energy conference like the World Assembly, you could watch the oil and gas videos the event organisers put together and make freely available.
You’d not only be starting a discussion and interacting with others, which are what conferences are set up for, but you’re also making a good impression with people. Don’t worry about coming up with the most original, insightful or witty remarks ever. Simply ask other people what they think. This shows that you’re interested and relevant, which in turn makes you interesting and relevant.
This should hopefully help you bridge the gap between you and others. Because that’s why you’re there: to get out of your bubble and get out from your own shadow.
Queenie Bates is an avid writer and researcher, with a particular interest in the area of sustainability. She tries to stay up to date by researching energy videos and whitepapers, and anything else interesting she can find on the Internet.
Photo courtesy of Frédéric Bisson, used under a Creative Commons license