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3 Tips for Conference Networking

Last Friday was the NC Tech State of Technology event in the Raleigh Convention Center. I love these gatherings, where there’s an opportunity to reconnect and to have my eyes opened to new ideas. I particularly enjoyed hearing the discussion about workforce issues and the cyber security talent gap… I learned a lot about the state of the data security industry and the kind of talent we need to cultivate.

The time most usefully spent, however, was in the exhibit hall. OK, so maybe my first draw was the tchotchke that each table was raffling off (for the small price of your business card…). But, honestly, having the opportunity to learn more about the companies lined up behind those 6’ tables was exciting. I could talk to the sales teams for hours!

But not everyone gets their batteries charged in the same way. For those of you who find the idea of walking up to total strangers and starting a conversation, well, intimidating, let me offer you a few tips. With a nod to Sara, one of the people I met in the exhibit hall, here are some things you can do to be more successful:

  1. Make a Plan. What is it you hope to get out of this conference? What are you most curious about?  Come up with three questions you’d like to have answered before you leave the event, then figure out who is attending that can provide you with answers.

    Many conferences will post a list of those who have pre-registered; you could connect with them ahead of time and have a meeting set up. That takes the edge off the initial anxiety. If your conference doesn’t post attendees, then look through the list of exhibitors and speakers. Seek them out and pose the question. It can be especially helpful if others are around, as that often leads to further conversations and expands your connections… often giving you someone to sit with at lunch.
  2. Make Friends with the Water Cooler. These days, every conference has at least one water cooler. Good thing, because all this talking can truly dehydrate you.

    There’s another great reason to hang out at the water station: it takes a while to fill up the cup. While people are in line waiting to become hydrated, take a look at their name badge. Something about them – their name might be hard to pronounce, so ask them about it. Or they might work where you have a connection or that has recently announced a new product. It’s easier to start a chat when you’re not necessarily looking people straight in the eye.
  3. Make a New Interest. Everyone attends sessions that are right up your alley. Break the mold at your next event and attend a break-out session that is on a topic you don’t know a lot about. Arrive early and sit near people already there. Introduce yourself, ask why they’ve chosen this session, explain why you did… and you’re off to the races.

    And if you just can’t find something to talk about there, then remember #1. Go back to the three things you want to get out of this conference and ask if they know anyone who can help you accomplish them. Most people are thrilled to help another!

At your next conference, change it up. When you accomplish the three things you set out to do, you’ll be much more confident the next time around. 

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