Previous Women 2.0 speakers and other event veterans offer advice on making real connections at conferences.
By Janet Choi (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
The term “networking” can make even the strongest cringe, but fear not. Forget the superficial mumbo-jumbo and remember that networking is the process of making connections — both in your brain with new ideas and insights and in building meaningful relationships. While the entrepreneur’s life is exciting, it’s also grueling — and with a strong support network in place, you’ll be at an advantage.
Here are seven things you can do to strengthen that network:
Attend as a Volunteer
Volunteering for conferences not only helps you get in the door, it makes it easy to meet a wide array of people, from organizers to attendees to fellow volunteers. Audrey Tan, founder of Waggit, volunteered for Women 2.0’s PITCH NYC Conference and discovered a welcoming reception:
“Not only do you get the feeling of giving back, event organizers are happy that you're helping out. So they're even more enthusiastic about hearing your story and following up on how to help you as a founder. After attending Women 2.0, I wrote about my experience and the writeup got circulated to people who supported what I was doing.”
Pay Attention to Successful Performances
Don’t get too caught up in the who and what being presented. You can also learn a lot by studying how things are done, whether it’s the structure of a talk or the approach of someone who has the most powerful person in the room hanging on her every word.
Tan offers this tip when it comes to studying pitches: “Pay attention to the format and style of presentations, especially the ones you like. There is a formula to get it right and if you can identify what made one pitch better than the other, you can learn a lot about where you stand.”
Be Specific When You Approach Speakers
One of the biggest draws of conferences is the chance to learn from the speakers. Given how they can attract a crowd, Dawoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel and a former Women 2.0 conference speaker, recommends that you smooth the way to stand out:
“It's important to come with a very specific, pointed question for that person. Speakers are there to help, and specific questions like “Do you know a recruiter who is good at finding an engineering talent?” make it easy for them to help you.
Be Mindful of How You’re Connecting in a Crowd
One of the most frustrating things that can happen at a conference is meeting loads of interesting people but not hearing from them afterwards, even after you follow up. Conserve your energy and choose your connections wisely.
Stacy-Marie Ishmael, VP of Communities at The Financial Times and #awesomewomen newsletter creator, shares her tactic: “I only give my business cards to the people who ask for them. That small thing — responding only to an explicit expression of interest in connecting further — means that I'm not imposing on someone who isn't actually interested, and they are much more likely to follow up."
Go Into Each Conference With an Open Mind
On the flipside, be receptive to a variety of connections. As Dora Chomiak, founder of Inflection Point Strategy, advises, "When you're at the conference, work towards achieving whatever you want to get out of the day, but also be open to meeting someone you did not expect to meet."
"Most times I find these connections becoming fruitful much further down the road," Kathryn Moos, founder of VROU, agrees. "You never know who you will meet, how you can be helpful, and how others can be helpful to you."
Set Your Intentions to Guide your Interactions
The buzz and bustle of conferences can make it hard to focus on yourself and why you’re there. Doing some prep work around what you want to get out of the experience will help pave the way to reach your goals. It’s like visiting a new city — you want to both look up the directions for how to get to sites but also be able to ditch the map in order to explore.
For Joanne Tombrakos, consultant and digital marketing professor at NYU, intentions lead to networking intuition: "Set your intentions in advance. Write down the two or three most important ones. The clearer you are on the intentions you set, the easier it will be for you to ‘work the room.’"
Don’t Be All Business
Even though conferences are purpose-filled events, that doesn’t mean that you have to be "on" the whole time. Yvahn Martin, a digital marketing executive at DJPremium, suggests just being yourself will open doors: "Don't feel pressured to only talk about business the entire time. Meaningful connections can be made over almost any topic!"
What’s your most effective tip for successful networking at a conference?