How to Network Like a Pro
Conferences are an amazing opportunity to expand your knowledge, skills, and professional network. But, with an abundance of information packed into one event, it can be both overwhelming and challenging to get the most out of the experience. With ReFrame Conference just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to go over a few tips to ensure you take full advantage of the opportunities ahead. Here are five tips to guarantee your next conference is stimulating and meaningful.
- Do Your Homework Before You Go
Like any good boy or girl scout would tell you, being prepared is key. Take time before the event to research the speakers, topics, and, if possible, the other attendees. Going in with a plan of attack is the best way to ensure you get the best bang for your buck! Remember, you don’t have to limit your networking to the other attendees. Conferences are perfect for linking with high-profile individuals, whether they be the presenters or the organization hosting the event. Researching the speakers and their topics is a good way to break the ice when attempting to connect with them. You also need to see what types of additional activities may be taking place before or after so you can adjust travel plans and pack accordingly. Many organizations are including early morning workouts or evening social hours to their activities. Bring appropriate attire so you don’t miss out! (There is an indoor pool at the MeadowView Marriott where ReFrame Conference will be held!)
- Strengthen Your Existing Network
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet new people, but don’t forget to work on strengthening your existing relationships. If you know who is going to be there ahead of time, make it a point to sit with those individuals you would like to reconnect with, or schedule coffee or a meal ahead of the event to guarantee some one-on-one time. If the organization doesn’t already have one in place, you can take the initiative to create a Facebook or LinkedIn group to extend your networking opportunities. These platforms can be extremely helpful for rekindling existing relationships, and are especially helpful for following up on new connections you formed at the event. Don’t make the mistake of simply exchanging contact information, either. If possible, go ahead and schedule a meeting or phone call so your business card doesn’t get lost in the pile.
- Choose Your Sessions Carefully
The most interesting sessions may not always be the best choice. Try to ask yourself if the topic is relevant to your job or organization. Will it improve your skill set and make you a more valuable employee? It’s not a bad idea to create a list of goals or expected outcomes to help with your decisions and keep you on track. That being said, it is also important to get a variety of topics on your schedule. Try to avoid choosing the same speaker for different sessions, because their information can often overlap between topics. If you connect with the speakers through social media early enough, you will have an opportunity to ask questions and clue them into specific challenges you are hoping they will cover.
- Put Away the Smart Phone
It may be tempting to catch up on emails or live tweet the event, but, like driving, if you have your attention set on the colorful, magical rectangle that is practically surgically attached to your hand, you will miss what is in front of you. It may be too difficult to leave your phone in the car, but you could compromise by setting your phone to airplane mode during important sessions. Though they can be great technological assets, phones and other devices can double as barriers. This can make you seem unavailable or unapproachable, which is the last thing you want to do at any networking event.
- Share the Wealth
The amount of new information you gain at a conference can be dizzying. A great way to better retain all that you learned is to pass it on to your colleagues when you get back to work. Speak with your coworkers before you leave to see what topics and sessions they are interested in, especially your boss! This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of your experience from the event and hopefully others will share your enthusiasm at their next conference. This will also give you a reason to take better notes and review the material while it is still fresh. If you’re confused about something one of the speakers said, don’t be afraid to ask a question or hang around afterwards to get clarity (which is another great way to stand out and connect with the presenters). At the end of the day, be sure to plan time to review what you’ve learned. Rewrite your notes in your own words and identify key takeaways, or begin putting together your presentation for the office. Whatever method you choose is fine; reviewing the material is what’s most important.
Elle Benson is the Director of Capacity Building for Alliance for Better Nonprofits in Knoxville, Tennessee. She will be giving a plenary speech at ReFrame Conference 2018, “Best Practices for Home Repair Programs - Where Do You Start?” and a break-out session, “LinkedIn to Advance Your Cause.” Fun fact: she has been to 11 Bonnaroo music festivals, and she doesn't even go for the music!