In professional services, it is so important to build a network. Whether you’re fresh out of the gate or a well-seasoned expert, your network is your business lifeline. The challenge is… how do you build it?
It is widely regarded that trade shows and conferences are the way to go when looking to meet like-minded individuals in your industry. In fact, you are set up for success with these types of events. Each person that attends is either invested or interested in the same subject matter at hand. Armed with that knowledge, how can you ensure that you are maximizing your networking time and getting the biggest bang for your tradeshow buck?
Take some time to make a plan and better understand what you’re looking to get out of the tradeshow/conference in general, as well as the networking portion. Are you there to meet business allies? Future employers? Recruiting talent? Potential clients? Once you know who or what you’re looking for, you can review the exhibitor list, check out the speakers, and plan for what you want to see. If you have a list of people or businesses you want to connect with while you’re there, you’ll spend less time wandering the halls and more time making business connections.
Know What to Say.
We’re all a little out of practice at in-person events, but even before we took a 2-year hiatus it was a good idea to practice your “elevator pitch”. You’re here at this event with a purpose, and whatever it is, you need to be able to convey it to people you speak to in a concise manner. Work on introducing yourself, explaining what you do and then have some ice breaker questions lined up. You don’t need to practice endlessly to the point that you sound rehearsed and robotic, but you also don’t want to be caught on the spot with nothing to say. Give it some thought, but don’t obsess.
Make sure you have plenty of up-to-date business cards handy and plan for what you’ll do with the ones you will collect. The last thing you want is to reach into your pocket to pull out someone else’s card and be left fumbling in front of someone. Consider having a place for your cards and a separate location for the ones you collect. Be sure to sort and organize the ones you receive as soon as you return to your home or hotel room to be sure you don’t lose any potential leads.
Sign Up and Get Involved.
There are always a host of opportunities to play games, interact, or participate in something going on. Get out there and have some fun. You never know what it could lead to. Be sure to put your name down for any newsletters that might be appropriate and get some free swag! Inspiration, connection, or a lead could be waiting for you to take a leap. This is your chance to make a memorable impression or to ask a question you’ve been waiting to ask. You’re already here, you might as well make it worthwhile!
Be a Sponge.
Absorb as much as you can. Learn about new products, organizations, practices…. any topic that is being shared! This is your chance to learn about things heading towards your industry or changing the way you work. Really listen to those you speak to and take in the knowledge. There is a wealth of knowledge available to you at these events and making it a point to learn as much as you can, will really help you get the most out of it.
Size-up the Competition.
It’s not every day that you get to stand shoulder to shoulder with your business competitors. Take the time to check out their booths and even have a friendly chat with them if you can. Remember, they’re competitors, not your enemy. Take a moment to see how they’re presenting themselves, what they are promoting and how they’re attracting people to their booths. Conversely, this is their chance to see what you have been up to. If you’re hosting a booth be sure to put your best foot forward and show them what you’ve got.
Above all else, enjoy yourself! It’s nice to be back out at in-person events. Learn as much as you can and be in the moment. Take notes and don’t forget to get as many free pens and goodies as you can. That’s the real perk of going to these events.
Senior Communications Specialist, RLB LLP