Networking at Professional Events
Networking at professional events is something I’ve had to learn over the years. And now that I’ve been in the game for a while, I’ve learned some unwritten rules for how to go about networking in a way that’s not annoying (to those I’m trying to meet) and also in a way that helps keep the events both fun and fruitful.
This blog post is adapted from a presentation I gave at the AAPCA: The Narrative Conference earlier this year. Because I got great feedback from it, I figured I’d share in the hopes you get something out of it too. You can access the presentation slides here.
The first part of having a successful time networking at professional events is doing your homework before the event. Whether it’s virtual or in person, you can do some legwork up front to get the most out of it.
Things like researching the presenters and/or key people who you know will be in attendance. See if you have any mutual connections or if you have an ‘in’. And for those you want to connect with, reach out beforehand to see if they’ve got any time to meet up. Be reasonable in your request as well – don’t ask for an hour when you could easily make an impression over a 15 minute coffee break between sessions.
Being mindful of others’ time and intentions during events is key. Odds are the people you’d like to connect with are also interested in making connections and catching up with friends from across the country whom they haven’t seen in a while. When you’re respectful of their time and set something up beforehand rather than ambushing them in the Exhibit hall, you’re more likely to make a good impression.
Once you’ve got your connections lined up for the event, consider your travel TO the event – is there an opportunity to make visits along your route? Maybe it involves stopping at a performance center, or making an appearance at a weight room of a former colleague. This is another situation where you want to reach out in advance so they’re expecting you and make time for your visit.
When you’re able to make these pit stops, plan to provide your own food/snacks, even offer to take the person you’re visiting out for lunch if you have time. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but the gesture alone will go a long way.
Next in the planning process is to consider your schedule while you’re at the event. You can prep for it in advance by knowing which sessions you’ll attend, meetings you’ve set up with potential connections, planning meals around those, and having times where you’ll visit the Exhibit hall to network with vendors and other participants more spontaneously. A pro tip: plan for times to take NAPS!
While you’re actually at the event, whether virtually or in person, take notes during the presentation and ask thoughtful questions if they come to mind. If you’re attending in person, introduce yourself to those around you and to the speaker after they present (if the opportunity presents itself). If you’re attending virtually, plan to watch it with colleagues in a comfortable setting so you can get in the right mental space for it.
For in person events, have a stack of business cards to provide – even though they seem a little old school now, they still make an impression and give people ways to connect with you. Also at in-person events, partake in the social aspect of the event (aka nightlife) but remember to drink water TOO! You don’t want to be remembered for being that guy/girl who overdid it. It’s also bush-league to show up to presentations the next morning reeking of last night.
Lastly, in making the most of professional events (in-person or virtual), remember the post-event things you can do to nurture those connections you made. Debrief with colleagues who attended the event as well. Share notes and information and USE IT! Consider what things are worth implementing right away, and what others might be applicable to the future. And one of the most important things you can do for growing your network is to send follow up notes/thank you notes. Pen and paper notes go a long way, but even these days an email speaks volumes. Send them a few days after the event has ended, try to include a personal note to each person you met or if you’re sending to speakers, mention something about their presentation that resonated with you.