How to Network Like a Natural at Conferences

February 5, 2015

Happy International Networking Week!

Are you a networking pro? If not, you’re not alone. Building professional relationships is challenging for most of us. Networking at conferences can seem intimidating — sort of like walking into the cafeteria on the first day at a new school.

But there are many excellent reasons to network. The more people you meet, the greater the odds of finding the best customers, partners and/or employees. You never know how that new business relationship will benefit you down the road.

This week marks the ninth annual International Networking Week. The goal of the week is to celebrate the key role that networking plays in the development and success of businesses around the world.

To help networking feel more authentic, we’ve laid out some tips you can apply before, during and after a conference. (Especially since the leading conference in the e-commerce industry is right around the corner!)

Before the Conference

  • Make Every Minute Count: Stay at the hotel where the conference is being held. If that’s not possible for whatever reason, do your best to make sure you stay somewhere close to the event. You don’t want to waste time commuting.

*Catalyst Tip* Catalyst is being held at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. A limited number of rooms are available at the discounted conference rate of $195 per night through March 9, 2015. To reserve your rooms online, click here or call 866-359-7757 or 702-590-7757 and use the group code CACM15.

  • Do Your Research: Spend some time reading through the conference’s website to get a sense of the event schedule, topics and relevant conversation starters. Also, take time to learn about the presenters.

*Catalyst Tip* You can access the Catalyst website here. You’ll find a full agenda as well as a list of speakers and their bios.

  • Create a Schedule: Instead of just going with the flow, plan out your time so you’re using each hour to work toward your goals. Figure out which panels and presentations you want to attend, and map out a schedule accordingly so you don’t miss anything important. You don’t necessarily need to go to every single panel, since casual time spent in the break room or at lunch is also a good way to network with other attendees.

*Catalyst Tip* The Catalyst mobile app will allow you to create a schedule based on the sessions you’d like to attend and offer a map of the hotel to help you find your chosen sessions. Details about the Catalyst mobile app will be released on our blog in the coming weeks.

  • Have a Snack: It’s hard to handle a drink and a plate of food while shaking hands and exchanging business cards. To keep your hands free, eat before you go to the events where food is served. If the network break is coupled with food breaks between sessions, consider packing snacks to munch on during the sessions.
  • Bring Business Cards: Although some people may prefer to enter your details directly into their mobile devices, it’s always good to keep a stack of your business cards handy. Also, consider carrying a business card binder to keep track of the cards you receive.
  • Take Advantage of Parties and Cocktail Hours: Be sure to attend the after-hour events. People tend to be more relaxed when not thinking about the next session they’re attending. Plus, there’s more time for conversation. These events may also be the only place you’re going to meet that one person who didn’t attend any of the same sessions as you.

*Catalyst Tip* The Catalyst Party will take place Tuesday, March 31 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. PDT.

During the Conference

  • Arrive Early: If you tend to be shy when meeting new people, arrive a few minutes early for the sessions you’re attending. You’ll feel more comfortable as the crowd builds and have a chance to engage one-on-one with a few attendees before all the noise and bustle picks up.
  • Be Interested, Not Interesting: Listening is a key element to successful networking. Show interest in the people you meet instead of trying to sell yourself at every turn. Ask people meaningful questions and really hear them out. While you’re talking to someone, focus on their answers to your questions and not anybody else in the room. It’s tempting to glance sideways to see who else is around, but it’s off-putting and unprofessional.
  • Make a Positive Impression: One of the most powerful ways to meet people at a conference is to ask a thoughtful question during the Q&As that follow presentations. It’s a golden opportunity to introduce yourself, not to one, but hundreds of people. Speak loudly and concisely. And if you disagree, that’s fine — as long as you do so courteously.
  • Keep Conversation Notes: You’ll meet numerous individuals over the course of a conference. But what’s the point of those introductions if you can’t remember the conversation exchanged? Try jotting down quick notes on their business card after you walk away or shortly after the event.
  • Take Advantage of Social Media: Most conferences have an associated hashtag — and sometimes large screens displaying a live Twitter feed of the conference conversations. Twitter is a great way to engage with other conference attendees and get highlights (aka more conversation starters!) from the sessions you aren’t able to attend.

*Catalyst Tip* The hashtag for this year’s conference is #Catalyst2015. We’ll be live tweeting throughout the event!

  • Put Away the Electronics: During networking breaks, don’t be glued to your phone. If you’re texting away, you’ll give off an unapproachable and distant vibe.
  • Be Bold in Your Seating Choices: When going into conference sessions, don’t sit beside your coworkers or someone you’ve already met. Instead, sit next to different people throughout the day.

*Catalyst Tip* Attendees tend to stake out their spot at conference sessions, but there’s no assigned seating at Catalyst. Sessions are a great networking opportunity, too!

  • And lastly, Bring Breath Mints: Having conversations up close to someone else is common at conferences. Don’t be remembered for your bad breath!

After the Conference

  • Email Within a Few Days: Emailing your new connections right away can make you appear eager and desperate, but you also don’t want to wait too long after the conference to get in touch with people. Reach out while your conversations are still fresh in mind. In your email, mention something that occurred at the conference or reference a topic of your conversation. Most important, make a concrete plan to meet or speak again in the near future.
  • Again, Take Advantage of Social Media: Does your new connection social profiles on their business card? LinkedIn and Twitter are great social networks for staying connected and getting to know each other better. In addition to your email, send a short message with your friend request reminding the person who you are and letting them know how nice it was to meet them.
  • Stay in Touch: Be consistent in your communication. You don’t want to have a flurry of activity followed by a dead period and then try to restart the relationship when you need something from the other person. If you’re good at keeping in touch, people will remember you when it counts.
  • Share Connections: If relevant, connect the person with other people you know personally or that you met at the conference. Maybe they share the same business goals or a common interest with an existing professional peer of yours. Whatever the case may be, there’s a good chance that being generous with your connections will benefit you later.

 

Successful networking is the secret ingredient to building professional relationships. Increasing your business connections allows you to expand your client base, develop business partnerships, recruit better employees or find a new, more challenging job opportunity. So don’t be a wallflower — get out there and mingle!

To learn more about Catalyst Americas, visit our website for details and registration information.

 

Blog post by Jordan Nowlin, social media and blog manager, ChannelAdvisor


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