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Friday, 21 December 2018 15:49

How do I expand my professional network at large conferences?

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This is similar to some questions I have answered in the recent past:

  1. How do I get better at networking in conferences and events?At the risk of starting off by stating the obvious, to get better at networking at conferences and events you have to actually attend them.And then it isn’t a matter of attending any conference or event. There needs to be a purpose to attending. What is your goal? What do you hope to achieve?In my book Power Networking for Shy People: Tips & Techniques for Moving from Shy to Sly! I outline a series of steps that a networker can take to be a more effective networker. Strategies include researching the event on-line. Learn all you can about the organization and what they are all about. Who are the leaders or the people of influence? What type of people go to their events and could there be anyone that would be worth your while meeting?It isn’t a matter of going in for the sale. It is more important to build relationships. You won’t build the relationship at the event. You need to follow-up after the event. Invite your new connection out for coffee. Get to know them!While it is great to meet and listen to other people’s stories, you have to be prepared to promote yourself. This is where your elevator pitch and your USP [Universal Sales Proposition] comes into play. What makes you different from everybody else?You only improve your skills by practicing them. After a networking event, debrief yourself. What worked? What didn’t? What will you do differently next time.
  2. What are the best ways to network at a business dinner and leave a good impression?

Business dinners can be challenging to network at.

There are basically three elements to the event: 1) Pre-meal 2) The meal 3) Post-meal.

1) Pre-meal: This is the part where people are coming together. Some are standing around talking to each other, reacquainting themselves with people they already know. It can be challenging to join a group of people if you don’t know any of them and introducing yourself to the group. Others may already be sitting at table and talking among themselves. You have the option of sitting at a table of strangers or with people you know. There can be advantages to either option.

You will often find people standing alone. There are shy introverts in every group. They may be waiting for someone to take the initiative to introduce themselves to them. Go for it!

2) During the meal: How effective you are in networking here can be limited by how the table is set up. In table rounds of 8 or 10, i.e. standard hotel options, you tend to be limited to the person on your right-hand side and/or on your left-hand side. Cross table conversation can be challenging, however group conversations tend to be easier.

If you don’t know anybody at the table and/or nobody else has taken the lead, suggest to everybody to go around the table to provide a self-introduction. This is a good opportunity to give an abbreviated elevator pitch and to pass your business cards around the table.

Long, two-sided tables, prevent similar challenges for conversing, in that you are limited to talking to those immediately to your left and your right. As well, depending on the width of the table, to the two or three sitting directly across from you. Once again, your business card and short elevator pitch will be put to use.

3) Post-meal: Sometimes people will linger about after the meal which gives you a chance to network. However, more often than naught, people want to get going on their way to other activities. Many may uncomfortable with networking, so don’t stick around.

As for the best way to network, basic networking skills come into play. You only have a limited amount of time, so you need to have a plan.

In advance, learn who is attending the event that it would be worth your while to meet. If you see people you know, reacquaint yourself… find out what is new with them. And don’t forget to share what is new with you. In addition, when talking to somebody you know, ask them if there is somebody at the event they know, that might be beneficial for you to meet. Then ask them to introduce you.

As in any networking event, you are collecting leads as to possible connections. When talking to someone look for common interests. If so, invite them out for coffee. Get their business card and contact them after the event to confirm the details.

Take advantage of your collection of business cards and send them an invitation to join your professional network on Linkedin.

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