This is a guest post by Elizabeth Macfie. Elizabeth has built a successful editorial business, much of it through personal contacts. She has been presenting on the topic of networking since 2007.
Why do we invest effort, money, and travel time to attend industry events in person? It’s because we learn certain things best when we’re face to face with live experts and in a group of colleagues. So to maximize your money’s worth, prepare to mix, meet, and share with your fellow registrants and the speakers. (And you may make some new friends, too.)
Don’t fear “having to network.” The conference will offer you interaction opportunities that suit your personality — introvert or extravert. (And realize that others — including the speakers — will welcome your talking with them.)
Plan your networking goals to give yourself a project while at the conference. For example, here are some of my (Elizabeth Macfie’s) goals: meet Daniel Heuman of PerfectIt; discuss future projects with my colleague Chris; make one new solid business contact; and learn more about workshop presentation skills. Arrange in advance when and where you’ll meet the individuals with whom you want to connect, or just watch for them on-site. Think ahead about what you’ll say.
Bring business cards. Even if you haven’t yet got a job or started a business, make a card that includes your contact information, a description of your field of endeavour, your LinkedIn address, and maybe a picture of you. Tuck your business cards in the back of your conference name tag holder or in the right-hand pocket of your jacket; put cards you receive in the left-hand pocket. Carry a pocket-sized notebook and pen. Consider bringing work samples on your phone or tablet.
Wear semi-workwear, because you’re promoting yourself as a business person. Example: nice jeans and a blazer; a dress and blazer. Bright, strong colours are most noticeable and impressive, and they achieve the semi-workwear effect (white says “business formal”). Shoes: balance smart with comfortable. Add a conversation-sparking accessory that says something about you, such as an industry pin. You may dress up more for the Friday reception; some people will wear fancier attire at the banquet.
Take these opportunities to mix:
- At the pre-conference seminars:
o Meet your fellow participants.
o Invite some to get together during the conference — perhaps at a meal — to discuss the seminar content.
- In lineups:
o At registration, waiting for meals, etc.
- At meal tables:
o Sit with people you don’t know; move to a different table for each course.
o Go around and meet each person before sitting down when joining a table where people are seated.
o Stand up to greet people who join the table after you’re seated.
o Talk with all the people around you; don’t leave your back turned on one of the people beside you.
- In sessions:
o Invite people to sit with you.
o Talk with people around you.
- With speakers:
o Sit near the front.
o Be a friendly face in the crowd.
o Engage in the Q&A.
o Thank the speaker afterward.
o Tweet about the speaker or what the speaker said.
- In the halls, between sessions.
- With conference volunteers.
Keep your name tag on all the time. To make it visible, tie the string short; keep it facing frontward; keep your hair, bag strap, sweater, etc. from covering it.
Try these conversation techniques:
- Before you enter the room:
o Think about something happy: your resulting smile will make you look (and feel) confident, approachable, and successful.
o Breathe deeply and relax your shoulders.
o Individuals (you could give yourself a mission of rescuing one or two people who seem as though they are looking for someone with whom to talk).
o Groups of two who are standing at an angle — the open space is for you.
- Realize that even “celebrities” want to meet people, and everyone (including you) has experiences and knowledge to share.
- Introduce yourself — your first and last name, where you’re from, what you do (or plan to do) in the editing world.
- To remember names, tell yourself in advance to pay attention; after being introduced, repeat the person’s name aloud; ask the person to spell it if it’s unusual.
- Tell a bit yourself (maximum of four points and 30 seconds). Be specific enough to distinguish yourself from others in the editing field — give people something to remember. Practise aloud in advance. Be ready with more details for conversations that are extra-long: interesting projects, particular skills, planned projects.
- Asking questions is the easiest way to make conversation: “Where are you from? What do you do in the editing world? How did you get into the business? What are you hoping to learn at this conference? What useful content did you get from that last session?”
- Listen carefully to what your conversation partner is saying — don’t peek around, looking for the next person you’re going to meet.
- To move on:
o At a break in the conversation, say, “I want to meet a few more people before I leave, and I’m sure you do, too, so I’ll let you move on. I’m glad I got to meet you, [insert name here].” If you can’t remember the person’s name and can’t see the name tag, peek at the person’s business card (or ask for it), or admit that you need a reminder.
o Introduce someone else to the person with whom you’ve been talking (say each person’s first and last name). Explain their common ground to help launch their conversation. Then leave them together and move on. This also shows respect to each of those people and gives them someone relevant with whom to talk.
- Write a note in your notebook or on that person’s business card when you want to remember a person or follow up on a conversation.
Make connections in ways that suit your personality. If you’re an introvert:
- Set a goal to talk with just one or two people at each event.
- Skip the small talk — get right to your business goals.
- Join groups of people who are already talking, and just listen.
- Circulate with a friend and introduce each other.
- Sit at tables with just two or three people at meals or workshops.
- Take breaks away from the crowd, as needed. You’ll return ready to mix again for a while.
- Communicate electronically: start or join in Twitter feeds about the sessions you attend.
Follow up to hold onto your new connections. Sort through the business cards and notes you collected and choose who to contact. For example, invite an interesting person to connect on LinkedIn, then comment on that person’s postings; send links that might interest your new connection; and if that person lives nearby, suggest a get-together (individually or in a small group).
And you can use your conference experience to demonstrate your professional knowledge and your writing skills: tweet or blog about your favourite presentations and panels.