7 tips for successful networking at conferences and exhibitions

Conferences and exhibitions are perfect for networking and building your contacts. But what is the best way to go about this for maximum effect and ROI?
Take a look at these seven tips for successful networking at conferences and exhibitions, and make sure your next event is your best yet.

Start Planning Early

Much of networking involves conversation. And, as we engage in the art of conversation every day of our lives, many of us are pretty good at it. You wouldn’t plan ahead or prepare talking points if you were going to a restaurant with friends or meeting the parents of your partner for the first time. You would just show up, be yourself, and talk naturally.
But this is a little different. When you are networking at conferences and exhibitions, you have an objective in mind. You are trying to engineer an opportunity for you and your business.
So, think about what you are trying to achieve.
• Perhaps you are looking for a potential new supplier, so you need to sound out a number of different options in search of a good deal.
• Maybe you are hoping to expand your network of customers and clients – in which case, you will need to advertise the advantages you offer with your words.
• Or it could be that you are looking to form a strategic partnership. This requires a degree of prior knowledge and research.
Make sure you have your objectives clear before you attend the conference or event. Also, see to it that your approach is tight and structured, leading to effective closing strategies. Finally, ensure that you know in advance who is in attendance and who you want to talk to.

Focus on Quality Communication, Not Quantity

There are going to be many people at the event, and you are going to want to speak to as many of them as you can. However, don’t overdo it.
If you find yourself rushing to speak to everyone on your list, maybe it is time for a rethink. You need to make sure that every conversation you enter into has enough time to reach a satisfying conclusion. This simply won’t be possible if you are pushed for time.
Your best bet is to plan ahead. Know who you will want to talk to, and roughly for how long you will need to speak to them. Give yourself ample time so you can be flexible if you would like to spend a bit more or a bit less time with someone in particular.

Consider Your Body Language

The jury is out on exactly how much of all communication is non-verbal. Some sources say it is as much as 93 per cent, although this figure is dependent on your definitions of verbal and non-verbal. What is clear, however, is that much of the meaning we deliver to our listeners come from what we do rather than what we say.
Rehearse how you will approach your networking. Practise before the event, and make sure you are giving the best possible impression to your listener. Take a look at these tips, and try to foster positive communication habits:
• Keep a relaxed posture to show that you are comfortable and confident.
• Own your area of personal space by standing with legs at shoulder-width apart, again to show that you are relaxed in your environment.
• Turn your body towards the person you are speaking to and lean in to show that you are engaged in what they have to say.
• Practise neutral arm positioning. Avoid creating a barrier with folded arms.
• Gesticulate to add emphasis to your words, but retain some restraint. It should be an aid, not a distraction.
• Practise a firm but not intimidating handshake to show that you are confident, friendly, and sincere.
• Maintain eye contact for most of your conversation. Eye contact is important, but don’t make anyone feel uneasy by staring at them for too long.
• Show that you are listening by nodding your head, or smile to show that you understand and agree. The conversation really is a two-way street. It is not simply a case of one person speaking and the other person listening. It is mutually collaborative all the way.

Optimise Your Time

We’ve already mentioned how important it is to plan ahead and to have a set but flexible structure for your day. However, optimising your time goes far, far beyond this.
For starters, be punctual. No one likes people who regularly show up late as it is disrespectful and a sign of poor self-control. In an event or conference setting, you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of the day. As such, you need to arrive on time so no time is wasted.
Next, think about the best times to have your key conversations.
For example, if you arrive later in the day, attendees may already be pushed for time. This might mean that they have less time to devote to you and what you have to offer. They may also have engaged in conversations with groups of other attendees, and these groups can be difficult to join for latecomers.
Let’s contrast this to an earlier arrival. Earlier on in the day, you will find that other attendees are more likely to be alone, so it will be easier for you to catch them for a few minutes of conversation. That few minutes might turn into 15 or 20 minutes, or even more, depending on how fruitful the conversation is.
Plan your journey to the event so you know you can arrive on time. If this involves investing in more expensive accommodation during the event, consider this option. The additional expense may make it easier to be on time and to be feeling fresh and ready for action when you arrive.

Remember to Question and Answer Effectively

We’ve already mentioned that communication is multi-faceted, and that much of it is about how we act rather than what we say. However, it is still crucial to plan in advance what you are going to say. You will only get one chance to make a good first impression with the words you use.
Too many of us get bogged down by questions. We plan the questions we would like to ask as these are the components of communication that use our own initiative. On the other hand, we might think that we don’t need to plan the answers we give when we ourselves are questioned because we are prompted to give these answers.
This is a risky strategy. We might feel unsympathetic to politicians when they get tongue-tied answering questions in interviews. But, let’s not forget that these people are PR experts – if they fluff an answer, anyone can.
So, plan your questions, by all means. Make sure that you sound interested and attentive when talking to other attendees. But be sure to plan your answers, too. You can probably get a pretty good idea of what people are going to ask you, so you can prepare in advance to ensure you have all the answers they need.

Make Sure Your Business Cards Are Pulling Their Weight

You’re not going to have time to speak at length with each and every person you meet. As the event begins to draw to a close and time is at a premium, you may start to turn your attention to making initial connections and setting up future opportunities to meet and network.
Enter: the business card.
This small but mighty tool is invaluable if you are to make a positive impression on those you meet. Yes, all of us have smartphones now, but it’s not always easy to quickly add someone’s contact details. And, this information can easily get lost in the sea of contacts that most of us seem to accumulate these days.
This means that a business card still has a big role to play. It sits in the wallet of whoever you give it to and provides a reminder of who you are, what you do, and how they can get in contact with you.
But just having a business card is not enough. Your business card needs to reflect you and your business, and your sense of professionalism. Avoid using bright colours and gaudy designs in an effort to stand out (unless this is already part of your branding). Instead, focus on creating a card that is high-quality in its construction, and clear and concise in the delivery of its information.

Remember that Networking Does Not End When the Event Ends

When the event is over and it’s time to go home, does the networking stop? Well, it shouldn’t. Chances are, you have lots of new names, numbers, and email addresses in your contacts list, and lots of new opportunities on your plate.
Don’t let these opportunities drift away. Instead, follow up. Reach out to the people you met and see how they are doing – perhaps discuss some potential business ideas together. One caveat to this: Don’t be the person who only rings up when they need something. Make sure you have something to offer as well – aim to give more than you take when nurturing relationships.
The key takeaway here is preparation. You are a great communicator, and that’s how you got where you are today. But prep and research work will help you hone those communication skills ready for maximum effect at your next event.

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