Conferences, industry events, and trade shows hold the promise of new contacts, a larger network, and (hopefully) more sales.
But those hopes don’t always come to fruition. For many people, conferences are little more than a chance to hand out a couple hundred business cards. You can see these businessmen and women moseying around the event floor, handing their cards to every person that passes by.
The problem with this tactic is that everyone leaves the event with an overwhelming number of business cards. At that volume, no one can put a face to any of the cards they received. So after a few weeks, they realize they’re never going to follow up and dump the cards in the recycling bin.
That’s why spamming your business cards is a terrible strategy for connecting with people—the return is vanishingly low.
To realize the networking potential of events, you need a strategy that focuses on outcome and effectiveness. Rather than order a new batch of cards for your next conference, try these tactics instead:
1: Choose who you want to meet with 1-3 months ahead of the event.
At some conferences, there are lines of people waiting to talk to a notable speaker or attendee. They’ve waited hours to get a minute of the speaker’s time.
The thing is, you want to be super effective with your time while you’re at a conference. And that means setting up meetings with people you want to talk to before it happens.
To do that, take a look at the list of speakers when it comes out. Browse the list of attendees if the conference compiles them. Go through your own list of contacts to see if anyone you know is heading to the conference—or if they know someone who is. You can even search hashtags on social media to find people outside your circle who are attending.
Once you know who’s going and who you want to see, reach out to them a couple of months ahead of time to schedule a meeting during the event. You’ll spend less time aimlessly wandering around the conference and more time speaking to potential partners or clients.
2: If a new connection asks for your contact information, turn it around on them.
Whatever you do, don’t let a new connection dictate whether or not you speak to them again.
Trust me, when I was a new entrepreneur, I used to give out my contact info like candy—and I’d hardly ever hear back. After a while, that constant sense of rejection started to drain my confidence. Was there something wrong with me?
Well, no (for the most part). The problem was that I was leaving it up to the other person. And because we’d only met briefly, and they’d already received 500 business cards that weekend, I would never hear from them again.
When someone tells you to give them your card, just say, “I actually don’t have one. But give me your email, and I’ll send you all my contact info.” Or just pull up a new contact on your phone and have them add their number.
Whatever the case, you want to make sure you have their contact info, not the other way around. That way, you’re in control of the follow-up.
3: Use a quirky characteristic to help people remember you.
When you’re at a conference or trade show, you really don’t have much time to build a rapport with someone. When you factor in the number of people the average attendee talks to over the course of a few days, it’s easy to see why they might forget about you.
A good way to differentiate yourself in that situation is to use some sort of quirk or characteristic to make yourself a little more memorable than the next guy. For instance, I’m pretty tall (6’9″). So I write “Tall Sam” in the tagline of my followup email. People see it, laugh a little, and remember, “Oh yeah, that tall guy. I wonder what he’s got to say.”
You don’t have to get too crazy with this, because you can easily go overboard. But I’ve seen people use garish ties or emphasize physical characteristics to get that little edge in someone’s memory.
Find something that makes you unique, and use it to your advantage.
4: End conversations on a high note.
Networking at these events is very similar to dating in at least one respect—you want to end it on a positive note, while things are still going well.
If you’ve had a good conversation with someone and gotten their contact info, then cut it off and move on. You don’t want to let the conversation peter out while you both look around awkwardly. The reality is, people won’t remember much of the conversation. They will remember how you made them feel.
If they were laughing, having a good time, and connecting with you, they’ll remember that.