I had been working at my first corporate job for 3 years when the world transitioned to hybrid and...
How to Network at a Conference| Written by: Jody Madala
Networking at a conference can be incredibly intimidating. Walking in alone can be the worst - you're fiddling around with your things, hands in your pocket or gripping your bag strap, glancing around the room and avoiding eye contact...Walking in with a group of people is more comfortable, but then it's easy to stick with your tribe and not meet anyone new. So how can you navigate to get the most out of networking at a conference?
Arrive at the Conference
- Show up early. If there is an hour of coffee (or breakfast, if you're lucky!) before the main session starts, get there in time for this.
- Stand in line to register and pick up your name tag.
Say Something: At the check-in/registration/name badge pick-up line, comment to the person in front of you or behind you on a) how you can't believe how long the line is, or b) how amazed you are by how short the line is. See what happens.
- Now, go get a cup of coffee, tea, or even some water. Don't pick up anything else just yet (even if the breakfast buffet is ready and you're starving).
Say Something: When getting your coffee/tea/water, turn to the person next to you and say something about how this is probably the first in a long day ahead, or about how excited you are for the first sip of whatever. See what happens.
- Take your cup and yourself inside to where the opening session is being held.
Pick a Seat
- Usually, there will be round tables somewhere in an opening session. Go sit at a round table! Pick an empty one or even one where 1 or 2 people are already sitting. Do not sit alone at the edge of the room.
Say Something: When you arrive at a round table, or when you sit in a chair in a row next to somebody, say "hi" to whoever is there. You can also ask, "Can I join you?" as you put your cup down. This is also okay. You don't even have to smile if you're not feeling it. Now, see what happens. Worst case, the other person(s) ignore you. More likely, they will say hi back, introductions will be made, and you'll figure out why each of you is here.
- If all the seats at the round tables are taken, go towards the front and find an open seat in the front row. Do not hide in the back!
- If you arrive late, the event has already started, hold your breath and just start walking toward the front. There will always be an open seat in the front of the room! Take it. Everyone wants you to fill that open seat, especially the presenters.
- If literally every seat is taken and people have just crowded around and standing along the walls, duck out of the session. Odds are good that there will be a few stragglers milling about outside the session. Do you see this bonding moment??
During the Conference Session
- Actually focus and listen. Don't scroll through your emails and read random news on your phone. Don't be cool. Be present.
- For those brave enough, go ahead and raise your hand and ask a question at the end of the session. But only if you genuinely have one. People will remember you asking and come up to you later. And if you don't have an actual question, don't make one up just to talk. People will remember that, too, and not in a good way.
Stay for the Reception/Cocktail Hour
- Most people bail before this (we've been guilty of this a time or two). But this is a great chance to have a few quick conversations and introduction with people in small groups. Everyone is more relaxed.
- Get in line for something to drink - it can be a glass of water. Now, say something.
- Take a sip of whatever you ordered and look around the room. It will seem like everyone is engaged, paired off, and you feel uncomfortable intruding but remember, everyone is here for the same reason: to connect and meet other people. Chances are, they will be excited to talk with you.
- Stay for 30 minutes. Now you can go home.
As part of our Always be Networking series, read on for some more tips on How to Network at a Happy Hour!
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