How to Network at a conference (and other awesome tips for excelling as a delegate)
Going to a conference can (and should) be a big deal. As well as the learning, there are the connections you will make while networking.
Attending a conference should be treated as a very important business meeting (with perks of course!), with the potential to gain more sales as a result.
To ensure you are fully prepared, follow these tips to ensure you are not only conference-ready but that you will make an impression that the speakers and other delegates will remember and value.
1 FOLLOW THE HASHTAG
Each conference will have it’s own hashtag which is usually released a few weeks before the conference; #smmw19 has been floating around since the day that the ‘social media marketing world 2018’ conference finished last March!
Following the hasthtag BEFORE the event means that you can connect with the speakers and, just as importantly, other attendees. This enables you to feel ‘part of the group’ before you’ve even booked your travel arrangements! Start following and connecting with other attendees and speakers before the conference so that when you arrive you recognize their faces and it’s so much easier to approach them and begin a conversation.
Some conferences will have a graphic, which you can add to your social media profile picture to let everyone know you’re going. Use this as it tells everyone you’re going and makes it easier for them to connect with you.
The more you feel ‘part of the family’ at the conference, the more you will get from it. After all, a conference isn’t just about the learning but about the connections you make too.
2 ENGAGE WITH SPEAKERS
The speakers will be announced in the months and weeks up to the event. Don’t be afraid to connect with them during this time. The first thing to do is follow them on social media, then you need to invest time liking and commenting on their social media posts. Post on your social media profiles how excited you are to be able to hear them speak — and tag them in. Remember what they look like — you may bump into them in the loo or at the coffee counter and it would be really annoying not to be able to make the most of that chance to connect with them on a one to one basis!
If you struggle to remember faces, make yourself a document of all the profile pics of all the speakers and pin it up by your desk! Sounds a bit creepy but it’s what teachers do at schools with their pupils to help them remember who they are!
Remember that each speaker was in your position once — and also that they need people like you to keep them elevated to the position they are in. Most speakers are just normal people who want to connect with their audience and share their ideas — so don’t be frightened of them!
3 TELL EVERYONE YOU’RE GOING
Make a fairly big hoohah on your social media platforms so everyone knows that you are going. The more you talk about it, the more people will want to come themselves and your status will be elevated as you are going. You might even get some of your friends and connections to join you, which will make the event even more fun for you!
4 REVIEW THE AGENDA AND PLAN WHICH SPEAKERS YOU WANT TO SEE
Many conferences have more than one speaker on at a time so it’s a good idea to do your research BEFORE the event so you can work out who and what you want to see speak and which (if any) seminars you want to join.
It just saves stress on the day as well as making you look really organised when at the end of one talk, people are faffing about trying to decide where to go next. If you confidently announce that you are going to see xyz speaker, they will be impressed by your forward planning as well as your opinion!
5 THINK OF QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK THE SPEAKERS
In your research beforehand, try and think of a question you can ask each speaker. You don’t want to be the annoying person who takes up all the question time at the end of each talk; but asking an intelligent question to a speaker will help them remember you as a potential influencer in your industry.
You could ask them questions relating to work they have previously published – that will show you have really done your homework!
If it’s appropriate, go up to the speaker AFTER their talk too. Here you should compliment or challenge them on a section of their talk. They will be impressed and flattered by the fact that you were really listening and will more than likely love to talk more about their talk which they’ve spent hours preparing.
6 PLAN YOUR JOURNEY AND ACCOMMODATION
Yes, it seems obvious but accommodation close to the conference centre may sell out quite fast and you don’t want to be left with something either really expensive or low quality.
Think about what your priorities are. Is it important for you to be in the same hotel as the speakers — be warned, that’ll be the most expensive one! If budget is a priority, you might consider sharing a hotel room or getting a rental apartment with one or more others. It’s possible that your connections on social media who live nearby may be able to help you or even put you up.
7 TELL YOUR CLIENTS, COLLEAGUES AND CUSTOMERS
Attending a conference is a great thing for your business, as well as for your clients and customers.
Sell it to them using the angle that you’re going to be connecting with lots of influential and knowledgeable people and you’re going to be learning lots — you’ll come back better at whatever your business is just because you attended. Therefore you’ve added value to them for no extra fee. If you’re an employee, presumably your company have sanctioned you going so make the most of that information amongst your workplace.
8 ARRANGE COVER FOR YOUR ABSENCE
As you are attending the conference for work, you don’t want to take it as ‘holiday’ time so you need to ensure your work flow continues undisturbed. Whilst you may be able to do some work while you are there, keep this to a minimum to fully maximise the experience. Conferences aren’t just about time during the talks — they’re about the networking and discussions in the café and bar afterwards too. You really don’t want to miss more than absolutely necessary!
If you’re working in a company, ensure someone will cover your workload for you. If you have your own company or work freelance, pay someone else to cover as much of your work as possible. Get them trained up before you go so you feel confident they’re going to do a good job. They may need logins etc so check with your clients that they’re happy for someone else to have these.
9 WHAT TO BRING
As well as the usual, phone, computer, notebook, pens etc. make sure you have enough charging banks. Most conference centres have power points but you don’t want to have to rely on these as they get busy — especially at the latter part of the day. The best thing is to use a power bank from the start, then pop it on charge during your morning coffee breaks and lunch break so you can use your phone. That way you will avoid the mid afternoon charging rush!
Clear your phone so you have as much storage as possible! Take a power bank too so you can save photos on to it to ensure you never have to restrict yourself.
A selfie light is a good idea as sometimes it can be a bit dark in certain parts of the conference centre (or the pub!) You’ll want to take plenty of photos to share on your social media and you want to look your best!
10 DRESS APPROPRIATELY
Remember that you are going to be meeting the influencers in your industry so you want to make sure you look your best the whole time you are there. Yes of course be comfortable but if you turn up in your sweat pants you may feel underdressed! Also, there will be photos galore, which will be shared all over social media so you need to look good in those too, you don’t want to be seen in your dirty hoody!
11 REGISTER EARLY
Arrive early, get yourself registered before everyone else then you can spend the valuable time sorting out where you want to sit (at the front obviously), and networking with people as they arrive.
In fact, the first thing you should do when you arrive is go into the room where your chosen first speaker will be and nab your seat. It’s a bit like putting your towel down by the pool on holiday! If you want to sit next to particular people, reserve a spot for them too and tell them you’ve reserved a spot on your table. Seating etiquette is very important at conferences!
12 LIVE LIVE LIVE!
Whichever your chosen platform is, get on it — live! Getting ready at home/in the hotel, on your way, on arrival, when you collect you lanyard, when you meet people — any excuse! Live tweet, Instagram stories, Facebook — anything but get it out there!
Don’t forget to use the conference hashtag and relevant handles on every communication.
You really cannot over do this! If you’re on more than one social media platform, take it in turns posting on each one. See which platform a particular speaker is strongest on and use that one for that speaker if you can.
13 RECORD EVERYTHING!
As well as sending out live photos and films, make sure you have plenty of same for use after the event. If you have one, take a camcorder and little tripod to record talks/parts of talks. Interview delegates and see what they think of the conference. Don’t forget that each delegate is a potential keynote speaker at future conferences! If you can get a short interview with any of the speakers — wow — that’s a great asset to have.
If you post interviews and photos of people on social media — they cannot help but comment and possibly share them for you on their channels.
Be careful however, you don’t want to embarrass someone or you stand the chance of jeapordising your relationship with them and their friends. It’s the old adage ‘What happens at the conference stays at the conference’ so it would be really bad form to post photos of one of the organisers, delegates or speakers in an uncompromising position!
14 BLOG THE BIBBY OUT OF IT !
So, you’ve got home, you’re coming down from the high and what next? Well the hashtag lives on and conference organisers LOVE it when people continue posting about their event.
You will have accrued so many photos, films and so much knowledge that you could put together a film or a blog/s and post them out on your social media, on your website, your blog, your podcast — wherever. Fellow attendees will love to still feel a part of the conference so they, as well as the organizer, will respond well to the hashtag (or when you tag them in on relevant posts). It doesn’t matter if this is a week or so after the event when all the original dust has settled.
Conferences aren’t cheap and they can be difficult to attend so, using these tips, you should be able to get the most out of every conference you go to.
Keep some photos and clips for future use too. #throwbackthursday is a great hashtag to bring out an old memory. Also in the run up to the following year’s conference you can show everyone what great fun you had the previous year!