The pandemic has left many people feeling stripped of their face-to-face communication skills after the shift to virtual programming.
While the addition of virtual events as a part of daily activities is likely a change that’s here to stay, times are changing yet again, and live offerings are making a comeback. In fact, 76% of meeting planners are having in-person events this year, a figure significantly higher than last year.
If you’re feeling nervous about your networking skills, you’re in good company. These tips will bolster your communication practices and make it easier to generate results from your conference experience, both for in-person and virtual events. When you feel well-prepared for your next networking opportunity, you’ll be better able to source new leads for your organization and build long-lasting professional connections. Let’s dive in.
1. Come With A Purpose
While this might seem self-explanatory, we can’t overstate the importance of conference-goers grasping this concept. According to NXUnite, there are numerous conferences occurring this year, all with unique target audiences and purposes. So, you shouldn’t take a “one size fits all” approach during your conference planning.
Consider meeting with your team ahead of time to collaborate on your top goals for the conference. Some questions to consider include:
- Do you want to learn about a certain topic?
- Do you want to connect with a specific person of interest?
- Do you want to buy a certain product or service?
- Do you want to expand your brand awareness?
- What KPIs can be influenced by your networking at this event?
The last thing you want to do at a conference is be swept away by the many events and conversations taking place. Allow your goals to drive your scheduling strategy. Talking your objectives out with your team or even writing them down will keep them fresh in your mind and ensure a more productive experience.
2. Connect With Your Association Members
If you’re an association member, you have numerous valuable resources at your disposal to optimize your conference experience. Use online forums, social media, and other outlets to start or join conversations about the event. For example, membership directories are a notable resource to build connections with other members.
If you’re a leader of an association, use the conference as an opportunity to drive more member engagement. You can proactively connect members who’ve registered to attend by:
- Sending them industry news briefs and other resources
- Help to coordinate lodgings
- Plan your own casual dinner or meetup for members
If you recognize anyone from your association from your research, connect with them and see if you have any overlap in your schedules. If they have experience with this conference, you can ask them for any pointers for which events and resources are worth pursuing. Plus, they can introduce you to members of their network, allowing you to build more professional relationships. It’s always beneficial to have a friendly face with you in the crowd!
3. Identify Professionals You’d Like to Meet
With an event as large as a conference, it can be overwhelming to prioritize who you want to network with.
That’s why you should gather as much information beforehand about the people attending as possible using online channels. Chances are, there’s a Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn post created by the conference coordinators that will showcase some of the attendees. Plus, the conference probably has a website that provides further details, so check often for updates.
Next, be sure to look through the confirmed attendees and identify any promising networking opportunities. You can see if the conference-goers have any relation to your association or other organizations you’re involved with so that you have a conversation starter.
Also, don’t forget to register in a timely fashion so that people know you’re attending and can reach out to you for a meeting. Creating a list of professionals that you want to meet and talk with is important for staying on task and accomplishing your goals.
4. Prepare Your Icebreakers
If there’s one thing that people dread when meeting someone new, it’s the possibility of an awkward conversation that leaves both parties feeling uncomfortable. Get ahead of that outcome by developing your icebreakers in advance. Here are some ideas:
- What do you think about ____?
- What advice would you give about ____?
- How would you approach ____?
If you followed the previous step and already know who you plan to meet, look into their professional interests and accomplishments. Doing research ahead of time will help you optimize your conversation to more meaningfully connect with them, get your questions answered, and learn from their perspective.
Stay up-to-date on industry news and trends so that you can converse professionally with your colleagues and impress them with your knowledge.
5. Review the Event Schedule and Location in Advance
Another way to streamline your experience at a conference is to strategically plan your accommodations. Research the event’s location and coordinate where you’re staying to be as close as possible to other attendees.
Get to know some of the nearby attractions, such as restaurants and bars, so that you can invite your network out and build rapport in a more laid-back setting.
Also, look into the event’s schedule to prioritize which events you want to attend, such as keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and special interest group activities. If possible, scope out your event locations ahead of time so that you don’t get lost. Building your custom conference agenda will ensure you get where you need to go without wasting precious time.
6. Participate on Social Media Before, During, and After the Event
Social media is the main advertising tool for events in the digital age. Therefore, you should stay on top of posts and updates for the conference you’re attending.
Your conference should have various kinds of conference management tech in place, such as online resources and forums for people to communicate with each other. They might even have an app with resources and schedules for the event. Keep close tabs on social media posts by turning on notifications for the host’s profiles. You’ll be updated as soon as they post, staying in-the-know and prepared for anything.
Once the conference is over, leverage your experience at the event to update your professional social media accounts about what you learned and accomplished. Follow the people you met at the event so that they will be able to engage with your posts. From their interactions, you can make further connections for years to come, strengthening your professional reputation and recognition.
7. Have a Follow-up Plan
When it’s all said and done, it’s up to you to maintain the bridges you’ve worked so hard to build. Consult with your teammates to make a follow-up plan for your new connections. Keep business cards organized and all of your notes in a safe place.
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Once you’re back home, send thank you notes via social media to people who set aside time to meet with you. This is a special touch that shows you put in extra effort and appreciated your time together.
We understand that conferences can seem intimidating, especially after communicating through a screen for so long. Luckily, there are many ways to avoid awkward interactions or missed opportunities.
Keeping yourself grounded and focused is the root of conference success, so as long as you carefully plan your itinerary and stay alert to your surroundings, you’ll go far at the event. Add a little practice and preparation, and your nerves will turn to confidence in no time.