20 Strategic Networking Steps for Your Next Business Conference

Here's an article by Allen Kratz, Principal of Resilience Works, a climate consulting firm, who is following the Simplest Marketing Plan and sharing what he's learning about strategic networking. (Scroll down for his bio.)

Conferences related to your business offer even more than an opportunity to increase your subject-matter expertise.  With careful planning, a business conference provides a great opportunity for strategic networking that will grow your business. Here are 20 steps to success that I have fun using: 

Prior to the Conference

  1. Check it out. Before registering, make sure the conference aligns with your business’s goals.  Review the agenda, speaker list, speaker bios and organization’s mission to decide if attending will be worth your time and expense. Visualize what you want to learn and gain from the event. That will help you make it happen.
  1. Be the Early bird. Check deadlines for advance-registration discounts and group-rate overnight accommodations.
  1. Invite a business colleague to attend with you. It’s great for other attendees to see you joined by a friendly face. You’ll support each other, give each other confidence and share successful interactions during the day.
  1. "Pre-introduce" yourself (with content). Several days before the conference, email the presenters you're most interested in connecting with. For example, “I am eager to hear your presentation on financing coastal flood resilience. Here’s a link to essay I wrote about innovative funding and posted on my website.” An email like this pre-introduces you ahead of conference-day frenzy.  Even better, the speaker may weave you and your perspective into their talk.  What a great shout-out!
  1. Make a positive first impression.  So, what to wear?  Perhaps you can take your cues from photos of last year’s event on the organization’s website. If in doubt, it’s better to dress up than be underdressed.  Be prepared to shed a jacket if you arrive overdressed.

 During the Conference

  1. Arrive early.  Make a point of getting to the site early. Check your pre-printed name badge. If it misspells your name, title or business, the registration desk may have time to print a correction.
  1. See who else is signed up. Take a look at the other name badges to see who else has registered. You’ll be better equipped to introduce yourself as they come in. You may even see some familiar names.
  1. Scope out the social media. Check to see if the conference organizer has a hashtag for tweeting or posting about the event. Have the speakers’ social media handles ready to incorporate into your tweets.  Be ready to live-tweet the key points that you see and hear.
  1. Prepare your follow up on site. Ask the organizer if the event will be recorded. Will the speakers’ PowerPoints and other visuals be emailed to conference attendees after the event?  If so, that will ease your post-conference followup.
  1. Be strategic about where you sit. In the main room, select a good seat for observing the plenary:  close to the front with good sight lines to the podium.  Position yourself for the photos you’ll be taking and posting.
  1. Be bold about where you sit! When a high-visibility notable keynotes the event, sit on an aisle that they’re likely to use in arriving or leaving.  An aisle seat optimizes your chance of shaking hands.
  1. If you arrive late... It happens, don’t fret, but refrain from navigating to that open seat way in the middle of the room. Too distracting!  Instead, stand at the edge of the room – a great vantage point for seeing and being seen as you scan the room and spot individuals who you’ll want to talk to during the next break. 
  1. Point and tweet. Take photos. Show your followers that you’re on the scene. A co-benefit: the conference organizer likely will retweet your tweets, increasing your visibility and credibility. (Here are some examples: here and here with the organizer.)
  1. Work the workshops. When it’s time to disperse to workshops and panel discussions, arrive at the breakout room in time to introduce yourself to the moderator and panelists before the session begins. When they open the floor to Q&A, they may be likely to first recognize the person who took the time for a courteous pre-introduction, which means…
  1. Be first up. Be ready with a good first question or comment that shows the audience your cred. Frame your question with a reference to your business. For example, “As someone who helps communities find funding to protect against sea level rise in New Jersey, I’d like your elaboration on lessons learned from Maine’s coastal plan.”
  1. Bring business cards. Bring business cards and your well-tuned elevator pitch. Collect others’ business cards. On the reverse, jot down how you promised to follow up, e.g., “Email coastal resiliency checklist.”  When someone says, “I don’t have any business cards with me,” pull out another of your business cards and jot down the person’s information.

After the Conference

  1. Follow up. Email everyone whose contact information you collected and connect with them on LinkedIn too. Do this in the “next-day” time that you set aside on your calendar when you registered for the event.
  1. Summarize and synthesize (with content). Summarize the high points and key learnings from the conference and post them on your website.
  1. Say thanks. Email your thanks to the conference organizer.
  1. Start thinking about next year. Do you want to be a presenter or panelist next time? Start the discussion while the idea is fresh!  Perhaps next year you’ll be on a panel, not simply in the audience.  How’s that for strategic networking!

Allen Kratz is the principal of Resilience Works, LLC, a firm that helps communities find funding for berms, levees, bulkheads, alternate power grids and other infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change.    resilienceworksllc@gmail.com    resilienceworks.info    @allenwkratz