Looking to crush it at your next conference? This article is going to provide some of my best conference/networking tips and advice for beginners. But first, I want to tell you a little story.
A LITTLE BACKSTORY
Almost a decade ago I had just graduated from college and was accepted into a highly competitive internship program called MAIP (Multi-Cultural Advertising Internship Program). I was one of a handful of creatives selected nationwide and sent to New York to live and work for 3 months in the summer of 2010.
It was one of the first nights and there was a major networking event where all of the interns from a myriad of NYC advertising agencies got to mingle with ad agency executives. I quickly became distraught and overwhelmed by the overstimulation of the event that I ran into the bathroom and hid. True story.
I remember calling my girlfriend at the time, and then my dad saying I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to be around all the fakeness of events like these — it was horrible. And so I ended up leaving the event with no contacts and no connections. It was a huge wasted opportunity, all because I wasn’t prepared and had no idea how to actually network. Plus being an introvert who likes to keep to myself hindered me further.
Fast forward a handful of years later, and I’ve gotten so much better at networking events. Most notably, over the past 4 years I’ve attended a conference down in Atlanta, Georgia called MenFluential (formerly StyleCon). It’s a gathering of entrepreneurs, influencers and men from all over the world, striving to be their best selves.
These power networking tips and tactics are going to be from my experience attending conferences over the years — what I’ve picked up on and how you can make the most of your next conference to further your big vision and goals. Above all, you’ve got to have a game plan.
And so here’s some of my best advice to help you craft your game plan.
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BEFORE THE CONFERENCE TIPS & ADVICE
Conferences are all about connecting with people and building relationships. Here’s what I recommend for you to do well before the conference is underway.
1. Figure Out Why You’re Attending
The first thing I recommend is for you to figure out why you’re attending the conference in the first place. What’s your primary objective? Do you want to meet like-minded people and expand your network or are you hoping to break into the industry of the big players in your niche? Whatever the reason, you have to be ultra-clear on exactly what you hope to get out of the conference.
Nail down your top 3 objectives and make sure that everything you do prior to and at the conference is getting you to achieve those goals.
2. Make Connections Before The Event
Is there a private Facebook group for conference attendees? If so, join in and make your introduction of who you are and what you’re looking to get out of the conference.
Closely follow the discussions in the group. Usually some of the attendees will be planning meetups that you may want to consider going to. Also, you might be able to find a fellow attendee looking for lodging and you both can split the costs of a hotel.
Are there speakers that you want to meet? Why not reach out to them prior to the conference, quickly introduce yourself, letting them know that you’ll be attending and that you look forward to meeting him. It doesn’t have to be a formal email, it could be a simple tweet or Instagram comment/DM.
By making connections in advance, you’ll enter the conference with a few friends that can make things more comfortable as you ease into day 1.
3. Immerse Yourself In The Community
This tip is for guys who are looking to break into a specific niche or industry.
You’ll want to get involved with the community on social media long before you attend the conference. This will not only show that you are serious, but also give the people in the community a chance to know that you exist. It’s much better if they already know you by the time you arrive.
Finally, find out where the speakers and people you want to network with are staying and book a room there. Don’t Airbnb just to save some money. Being in close proximity to the people that you want to rub shoulders with is much more valuable than saving a buck.
Now that you’re primed for the conference, here are some of my best tips.
DURING THE CONFERENCE & NETWORKING TIPS
4. Arrive Early, Stay Late
If u can, arrive to the conference a day early and stay a day late. This will give you time to get acclimated with the new city, meet up with fellow attendees and rest up before the conference revs in the high gear over the next few days.
And by staying a day later, you might be able to schedule meetings with other attendees or important people you didn’t have a chance to fully connect with at the conference. Additionally, staying a day late can give you an opportunity to explore a new city.
I did this my first time going to MenFluential and it really helped to calm my nerves. Plus the extra day gave me a chance to explore downtown Atlanta and visit the famous Coca Cola factory.
5. Stay Energized
Remember to fuel up with healthy foods. That means lots of fruit and veggies. Most conferences provide these for free. Don’t forget to stay hydrated too. Water is your friend. My first couple conferences I starved myself and it reflected in how I felt throughout the day. I wasn’t in optimal form to mix and mingle with all of the other attendees.
6. Find Your Tribe
Who are the guys who’s message most resonates with you? Who do you see yourself emulating and following in the footsteps of? Find these guys and go deep with them. Pick their brains and learn everything you can from them.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Surround Yourself With Giants
Look around. If you feel like the least qualified person in the room, that’s a good thing. Challenge yourself and believe that you already on their level or at least striving to get there someday.
Aspire for greatness because idols can become rivals, look at Jay-Z and Kanye. The greatness is in YOU. You just have to pull it out of yourself with a little bit of confidence.
8. Listen And Be Vulnerable
Don’t forget that we’re all humans seeking connection. Listen to other people’s stories and maybe you can open up and tell your story, your hopes, big goals and dreams for the future. Most of us are here for the same thing. And one of the best ways to make a connection is to be vulnerable.
9. Quality Over Quantity & Be Memorable
It’s better to leave the conference with 1-2 strong relationships rather than a pocket full of business cards. Focus on quality contacts over working the room like a mad man.
And you’ll want to be memorable too, whether it’s in what you say or what you’re wearing, or even your business card. It will give others a reason to remember who you are long after the conference concludes.
10. The Magic Happens After Hours
Be sure to attend any post-conference mixers and partake in the nighttime festivities. More than likely there will be groups of people going out at night to have fun and make further connections. If you’re tired, try your best to power through it, but rest if you need to.
While out, don’t be afraid to go for the ask, granted you’ve already been adding value over a long period of time. Like entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk says, jab, jab, jab — right hook.
If you’ve already immersed yourself in the community and they know you, and you’ve been contributing value, then start asking if you can contribute to be a guest blogger on their site or work together on a collaboration.
11. On Meeting Your Idols
Meeting people you really admire for the first time can be overwhelming. It’s easy to question whether or not you were fan girling or dishing out way too many compliments. It’s natural to feel this way. But you’ve got to remember that they’re regular people like you and me.
Give compliments, yes, but straddle the line. Don’t just be a fan boy. Be honest and authentic. If they’ve affected your life in some way, let them know. Tell them about a piece of content that really helped you. Let them know you respect and admire them if you do. But remember that they are regular guys just like you. So be a peer and talk to them like you would a friend.
Always give them your business card even if you think they have already seen your work. You can’t assume. So be sure and give your card out. And be sure to follow up right after the conference ends.
12. Enjoy The Hell Out Of It
I have some amazing memories of my first StyleCon. It was where I just KNEW that what I’m currently doing now is what I wanted to do all along. And while I’m not at the promised land yet, I know that I will get there in due time.
I had a blast at the first conference down in Atlanta, Georgia. It really did change everything for me and I’m forever thankful for all the friends I made along the way.
Before wrapping things up, I have some simple tips to help you in conversation.
SIMPLE CONVERSATION TIPS & TACTICS
13. How To Break The Ice
In order to be interesting, you have to be interested. And so, make it about the other person. Who doesn’t like talking about themselves? The more you can get the other person to talk about himself, the more he will be drawn to you and willing to open up.
Ask them questions about themselves to pull them out of their shell, especially if they’re introverted. The key is to get the other person talking. You will know when you’ve hit a topic of interest for them.
Ask questions to elicit emotion from the other person to get them to share their deepest desires, intentions and dreams. What truly drives them. Try to figure that out.
Above all, having a positive demeanor with passionate delivery is more important than what you’re actually saying. So long as you’re genuinely interested in the other person, it will likely make you more interesting to him.
14. Don’t Ask This Question, Ask This Instead
“What do you do?” That’s a cop out and a bad way to start a conversation. Instead ask, “how do you spend most of your time?” People want to talk about things that inspire them and get them out of bed in the morning and most of the time it’s not their day job.
15. How To Keep Them Talking
While making eye contact, do the triple nod. You’re essentially affirming what they’re saying and in turn they will keep talking.
16. Put Your Body At Ease With This Trick
I got this one from AJ Harbinger from the Art of Charm. When you enter any room, pretend there is a string pulling your head up. Pull your shoulders back and relax. Put a smile on your face. This will give others the best first impression of you when you enter any room.
Bonus Tip: Know Your Elevator Speech
No longer than 30 seconds detailing who you are and what you are all about.
WRAPPING THINGS UP
I hope this article was helpful in providing tips and tactics that you can use for your next conference. After many years of attending conferences and networking events, I still get nervous, but the most important thing is having a game plan. Once you figure that out, it’s all about executing and putting your best foot forward.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NETWORKING TIPS THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community.
Looking forward to seeing you in there.
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