Last month I geared up for Cape Town, South Africa to attend the International Conference on Emergency Medicine (for more information on CME related travel click here). I enjoy conferences, not only for the educational component but also because they are a good a venue to create network connections, especially because I am always interested in new professional opportunities.
The thought of “working the crowd” is always daunting to me, as I can be quite introverted. Having attended conferences and business social events by myself, I know how intimidating it is to walk into a large room of people and engage in a conversation with random people. Even worse, when other attendees are already clustered into chat mini groups that I have to now infiltrate. Ideally, I would try my best to bring friend to help break the ice.
Me arriving solo at networking event
Regardless if I am arriving solo or duo, before any event with a potential for networking, it’s good to ask “Why I am even going?”. Is it to enlarge my professional network and connection?, or am I in the midst of a job search? Essentially, no one demands I interact with other attendees if my sole goal is to get out of the house, have a drink and return home. Being able to articulate, even if just in your mind, what you do and what you are looking for helps you to create a game plan. Trust me, it’s easier to break the ice when you have done this prep work.
Many events will have a list of speakers/presenters or honored attendees posted days or weeks beforehand. Spend time looking at this list, check to see if there is anyone that you want to meet. If someone you want to meet is giving a talk, be sure to arrive on time to listen to their speech or presentation; perhaps 10-15mins early to get a good seat.
Be a good listener. When you approach the speaker, give a quick intro about yourself and then try to reflect upon a key item in their speech or career profile (i.e…show your interest). Also be prepared to maybe wait in line for your chance to have a one-to-one with keynote individuals. Since you have prepared for this encounter, use this chance to ask her/him a few questions. Remember to keep it short and simple. I do not recommend using this time to give a “sales pitch” for yourself or business. You can extend an invitation to connect via email or Linkedin where you can expand your conversation. Make use of that nifty business card you remembered to carry with you. You can visit Vistaprint.com to create business cards.
Pics from several conference events
For those looking to expand their network, it’s vital to make time to engage with other attendees. This can be tough but I tend to start by finding a lone attendee who I can approach and start a simple conversation. Typically, many people at the same event will have a common feature unique to the theme of the conference. You can use this information to start a simple conversation.
Sometimes I may find myself engaged in a good conversation with an individual and in my mind I think that I should be mingling more so I can meet more people vs staying static with this one person. There is no rule to how many people you need to meet. However, if you find yourself in a dying conversation, you can make your ending with “It was great chatting with you. If you want to talk more, here’s my card.” Again, once you narrow your goal for the event, that will more easily dictate your movement. If you want to obtain 10 business contacts, then naturally you may have to switch between crowds with more frequency. Whatever your pace, be approachable; don’t spend too much time giving your cellphone more attention than the person standing in front of you.
If you happen to collect a few business cards and/or referrals, be sure to follow up quickly and efficiently.
What are some ways you handle networking at social events?