Turn that conference into a networking opportunity

Tips for a novice networker

A young friend I’ll call Tracy has asked me to elaborate on my September 6 ezine on the topic of networking.  

Apparently Tracy is about to head off to a national conference. While there, she hopes to build her own professional network, and at the same time find ways to create value for the university where she works.

To begin with, Tracy started “a ‘goal list’ of people to meet and ideas to bring back.” She has asked for other suggestions for making the best of her time at the conference.

So here a few thoughts on networking at conferences:

o Don’t expect too much from a single opportunity. I like the idea of Tracy’s “goal list,” but at the same time I urge her not to put too much pressure on herself. Networking can be a long-term journey requiring flexibility, patience and many steps along the way. I hope that Tracy isn’t disappointed if she’s unable to check off all the items on her list. I urge her to be open to unexpected possibilities. And I remind her that there will be many networking opportunities after this one.

o Plan before you go. When you meet somebody at a professional event, they are likely to ask, “what do you do?” Before you take off to that conference, practice your “elevator speech,” so that you can quickly present the best version of your story. And while you are packing, pick clothing that will make you look like the successful professional that you want to become.

o Take a few risks. Know that most people feel shy at least some of the time. If nobody is speaking to you at an event, it might be because they don’t know what to say. Even if it makes you nervous, look for people who are standing or sitting alone, and go introduce yourself. Have a list of questions in mind, and give yourself the challenge of finding out about them. And if some stranger rejects you, let it go – they don’t know you, and it is probably their problem, not yours.

o Look for ways to serve. People who work on projects together are more likely to get to know each other than those who simply attend the same meetings. If you want to build relationships and create a higher profile, look for opportunities to do some of the work. Conferences often give rise to follow-up tasks and membership options. So join committees, sign up for mailing lists and volunteer for tasks.

o Follow up. When you do meet somebody interesting, find a way to stay in touch. Let them know you enjoyed speaking with them, send along information they might use and sign up for their mailing lists. And whenever it might be appropriate, send along timely “thank you” and congratulation notes.

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Bev, a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice.

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