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We, as entrepreneurs, have a goal: to grow a startup — a brand — that impacts many people with our solutions and services. This entails numerous tasks, from building a product, managing and hiring a team, finding investors and establishing a client base. With that in mind, who has the time to network and attend events? And on top of that, do you know why most people hate networking at events? Because they rarely meet relevant people for them, and it often feels like a waste of time.
Do you know why it feels like a waste of time? Because they never took the time to set their goals for the conference or meetup and define who they came to meet, and instead leave it up to luck or chance.
I always say that no one teaches us how to network for results, and that’s why I took on the task over a decade ago to build my expertise and run workshops to teach professionals all around the world how to network — and that includes at conferences.
To help you make the most of your next meet-up or conference, I would like to share some of my top practices. Once you do them, you will surely look at networking events as a source of opportunities rather than a time waster.
Related: 3 Ways to Get More Business at Networking Events
1. Remember: Networking is uncomfortable for all of us, not only you
Why are we so uncomfortable next to strangers at conferences? Once you crack that, you can work the room so much better. I hope this info will make you feel a bit better: Based on public speaking statistics for 2020 from Orai.com research, 77% of the U.S. population feel some anxiety when it comes to public speaking, and 90% report some “shyness.” This means most people who come to the event will feel the same as you do — uncomfortable and insecure. However, in most cases, they will put a “mask” on and won’t show it.
Various studies and concepts in social psychology and cognitive neuroscience also found that when we meet new people, our brains subconsciously assess whether they like us and whether they pose a threat. It happens in split seconds, and that’s why a positive first impression is so crucial.
What can you do to connect well with all the people you meet? Be proactive and initiate the conversation instead of waiting for them to do so. Show them that you are open to meeting them through open body language, a smile and a warm look in their eyes. It’s so simple and non-verbal, can make a better experience for both of you and could be the beginning of a great friendship or business partnership.
2. Set your “people’s goal”
As said, most people don’t feel networking events work for them because they don’t set a goal for those they want to meet with. Several years ago, a global businessman I followed came to Berlin for a conference while I was there. I sent him a LinkedIn message a few days earlier, stating that I saw he would be in town and expressing my wish to meet with him. We set a time for our meeting, and when I arrived at the conference at that designated time, I met him and left. Mission accomplished — and it was short, precise and time well spent.
Before going to a conference, check if the topic, speakers and type of participants are people in your industry whom you wish to get to know. Then try to find out who will be there and set a goal of at least two people you must meet at the conference. Make sure you do what is needed to meet them and ensure you won’t leave the room before you do so. Then, by the time you leave the conference, it should feel like time well spent. Don’t forget to follow up after and continue the conversation with those you met.
Related: The 10 Commandments of Networking
3. Create your “events squad”
Usually at conferences, we may know some people from the past, meet new people and even attend with another “wingman/woman.” To meet the people you wish to get to know, you need to be everywhere and see everything. But how? By creating your own “event’s squad” that will increase the chances of getting connected to the right people.
You can do it with a bit of planning, a lot of goodwill and two stages. It goes like this:
Stage 1: Every person you meet, whether a new acquaintance or an old friend, at some point in the conversation, ask them: “Who are you interested in meeting at this conference? I might see/know them and can introduce you two.”
Stage 2: Then, they may ask you the same question. If not, just say: “By the way, I’m looking to connect with people in [sector] if you come across anyone please introduce us.” They usually will say “Yes, sure!”
Now what? If you get to meet someone they’re looking to meet as well, please introduce them during the event or after. Some of them will do the same for you, and this way, you build a team that thinks of your needs — just as you think of theirs — and increase your chances for relevant introductions during and after the conference. That’s actually what networking is all about: a mutually beneficial relationship that helps each side grow.
Related: How to Network For Those Who Hate to Network
In conclusion, mastering the art of networking at conferences is not only about attending events but strategically planning your moves and setting clear goals. By being proactive, initiating conversations and connecting with others, you can transform networking from a perceived time-waster into a powerful tool for professional growth.
Remember: Everyone at the conference, like you, seeks meaningful connections. With a thoughtful approach, you can make your conference experience truly impactful. Embrace these techniques, and may your future conferences be not just events, but stepping stones toward your professional success and company’s growth.