There are opportunities for networking in many areas of life, but none so more that a good ol’ fashioned conference. People from all over the industry gather together diving into toughest problem areas and discussing the latest research.
But networking can be tough and scary and it can be difficult to know where to start. But don’t feel bad if you’re not an expert; networking is a skill that can be learned through practice like everything else..but like everything else; knowing a few basic tips from a seasoned pro probably can’t hurt either.
With that in mind I’ve scoured the net for the best tips and collated them into this nifty little list; happy networking!
1. Planning is everything.
Don’t just show up and wing it. Put some thought into what you hope to gain from your interactions with people; are you looking for a mentor? Technical sparring? Or academic discussions? If you know where you want to end up it’s easier to work towards it.
Similarly it can be beneficial if you have a clear way of presenting yourself. Try to prepare introducing yourself in a way that opens up the conversation; you want to show people what you are really interested in; it’s the difference of saying “I’m a software developer,” vs. “I am developing a new solution for using big data in the development of chairs for trombone players”.
Have a clear sentence in mind that is an interesting description of you or what you do; adding details makes it easier to find common ground and start interesting conversations.
This is not to say that you should walk around like an idiot all day with a fake smile plastered to your face. But do try to look as though you are having fun and would like to be approached. If the goal is to network try to avoid burying your head in your phone/laptop/tablet/etc. Smile if you get awkward eye contact with a stranger. Be polite and courteous in the coffee line.
If you feel nervous when talking to people, hold something in your hands, like a coffee cup to keep your body focused on the person you’re engaged with.
3. Be genuine
Try to be genuine in your interactions. People love to feel interesting and most people are interesting if you find the one thing that makes them tick. It’s hard to make intelligent remarks about the weather…but that new programming language they’re brewing in their basement? I bet they have some fun stuff to say about that!
Asking good questions can, in turn, showcase your personality and interest; it shows the talker which aspects you pick up on and what your interests are in relation to theirs.
However, if you don’t click with someone it’s okay to walk away; going for more coffee or the next talk are both valid excuses, and no harm is done.
4. Give first!
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire – this might even be a good time to follow step one; thoughtful questions are flattering and help establish a meaningful connection. Other people who are standing alone are also excellent targets for spontaneous networking. They may be shy and you’ll actually be the hero that saves them from awkwardness (though disturbing actually people with head phones in is always a no-no). If you are nervous about approaching complete strangers have some generic questions prepared; Is this your first Goto-conference? What’s been the best talk you’ve seen so far? The goal is to create common ground so that you can both talk and contribute to creating a conversational flow.
After asking your good, generic questions be sure to listen to the answer and ask follow-up questions based on the answers.
5. Follow up
Make sure you get a business card! Make notes on them regarding the conversations with the persons – and don’t forget to hand out your own. It’s an easy way to exchange information that doesn’t rely on fishing out phones from pockets or fidgeting with pen and paper scraps.
Once the conference is over the networking continues.
Follow up soon, while you are still in the person’s mind – and they in yours!
Depending on your connection follow up either by sending an e-mail with a thank you and an invitation for coffee. If the conversations were more casual following them on twitter is a great way to engage casually, yet professionally.
Do you plan on networking at this year’s GOTO? If so what will your approach be?
Great article! It’s always good to keep in mind not to ask questions that can be answered with yes or no, because then you’re back at your starting point. If you’re not good at coming up with questions that could lead to interesting answers then try using this list of 365 table topics I came across in my own preparation for the GOTO conference coming up: http://www.dist8tm.org/docs/TM-%20365%20Sample%20Table%20Topics%20Questions.pdf
They aren’t all equally suitable, but sometimes you get more interesting conversations if you ask questions that aren’t expected 🙂
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