As I attend more conferences, I’ve realized how many people truly struggle with networking skills. It can be difficult to meet people when you are new to an environment or a profession. Nobody knows you. You have no credibility. It’s easier to recede into your phone or find the nearest familiar face before risking a conversation with a stranger. It can also be difficult to network when you are the expert. Everybody knows you and wants something. You literally want to hide in your hotel room because walking the hallways is exhausting. And how do you filter the real relationship opportunities from the people who just want to sell you something?
Regardless of which side of the coin you’re on, unknown or well-known, this post is a list of some tips you might take into your next event.
- Give yourself permission. It’s ok to build a relationship with someone who wants access to your network. It’s equally ok to build a relationship with someone with a network you want to access. Over time, those relationships can become real friendships. The key to making them successful is ensuring that everyone is getting something out of the arrangement. If you’re the mentor, have good boundaries. If you’re the one being mentored, respect the other person’s space.
- Learn from the people around you. It’s good to have relationships with people who are older than you. They bring wisdom and experience to life. You know how people say that your parents seem to know so much more as you get older? It’s true. Young people also bring an interesting perspective. While they definitely want to grow their network by accessing yours, you can learn from their perspective while helping them build their platform.
- Be kind to people. Life is full of amazing people. They aren’t “doing life to you”. You aren’t “doing life to them”. Do life with the people around you. We are all going somewhere.
- Prepare yourself before you go. A friend of mine recently advised me to know “five things about five things” within a particular subject matter. She’s not a mom, but she took the time to come to a mom event to see me speak to a crowd of people about cloth diapers of all things. Before she got there, she figured out how to have a conversation about five things that mattered to the people in the room and, like the master of conversation that she is, she managed to leave that event not having just talked to me, but also with some new connections.
- Self-awareness matters. Isolating yourself within a small group of friends can feel safe, but conferences aren’t necessarily the right place to spend 24/7 with your favorite people. You’re building new social capital for the long term. If you’re highly successful, be aware of how you’re perceived by people who wish they were just as successful or just as popular. These are times when accessibility and friendliness can turn into legends about how amazing you are as a person – or just the opposite.
- Remember FORD as a basic conversation outline. Tell me about your FAMILY! What is your OCCUPATION? What do you do for RECREATION? What are your DREAMS? End the conversation with “Do you have a business card? Here’s my card! Do you mind if I reach out about <…..>? It was so nice meeting you. I’m going to go refill my water now and meet some of the other amazing people here.” Write on the back of the card so you don’t forget what the conversation was about. (Not every question applies to every scenario. I didn’t come up with this acronym, but I use some variation of it in conversations all the time.)
At a conference, you can assume that there are a lot of very interesting people present. Some of them will be perfectly happy hiding in their headphones. Others will enjoy meeting someone new. Recently, I met the head of marketing for Netflix at TEDWomen. She was a lovely person and knew of my company. Later, at the same event, I bumped into the head of a private equity company that had backed Tesla. In both cases, we had a nice conversation and exchanged business cards. The conversations weren’t “set up”. I just said hello and then learned that I was talking with someone truly amazing. The best part? They felt the same way.
I will leave you with this thought. Not long ago, NBC Nightly News featured a concept called “The Buddy Bench”. There aren’t buddy benches at conferences, but maybe, just maybe… there should be networking benches. No phones allowed.
Feel free to add your own experiences and thoughts in the comments. I love hearing from you. If this content was was helpful to you, please share this post. Thank you for following my blog.