Professional conferences are a great way for freelancers and entrepreneurs to expand their client base and make genuine connections, says blogger Melanie Lockert.
Have you ever gone to a conference and felt totally overwhelmed and unprepared? Professional conferences can be lucrative for your career, but also tough to manage. Everything happens so quickly, and it’s difficult to navigate the many things going on all at once.
Whether you’re a conference veteran or complete newbie, here’s how you can make the most out of any conference.
Have a Game Plan
Before the actual conference, it’s important to plan in advance: What do you want to get out of the conference? Who do you want to meet? What’s your ultimate goal for attending? Answering these questions can help you come up with a conference strategy.
If there’s a published attendee and speaker list, follow those people on social media. Reach out via email and inquire about meeting at the conference. Doing a little work ahead of the conference can go a long way.
Go in with a Goal
There are many reasons to attend a conference, but in order to get the most out of your experience, it’s important to zero in on your goals. For example, they might include:
- Network with peers
- Get new clients
- Learn new skills
- Boost sales
- Connect with leaders in your field
Determine your number one reason for attending. For example, if your top priority is to network with peers, you’ll have a different conference strategy than someone looking to gain new clients.
Networking might mean attending all the social events, whereas gaining new clients might mean taking on more one-on-one meetings to chat. Going in with a goal can help you avoid being aimless and floundering and give you some much-needed purpose.
The word “networking” can be an instant turnoff. It can evoke images of people you just met pitching you something before you even get their name. That is not how to effectively network.
Networking the right way can do wonders, though. When it comes down to it, it’s all about creating relationships with others—genuine relationships. In order to do that, you have to be yourself and be genuinely curious about others.
Talk to people openly and honestly and ask about what they do. Get to know them outside their jobs. Ask good questions. Make it about them, not about you. Find common ground. Ask yourself how you can help others before trying to push yourself on other people.
After connecting with others, ask for their business card. Then, take an important extra step. Make notes of what you talked about and details of your conversation. At conferences, you can meet hundreds of people in a short period of time. When you’re back home and settled in, your stack of business cards can suddenly seem like a meaningless mountain of paper.
Writing notes after you chat with someone can help you with the follow-up and can jog your memory—even just a few words about what you chatted about is good.
Master the follow-up
The most important part of any conference happens afterward: the follow-up. After all, you’ve collected a stack of business cards—why not do something with them?
I’ve heard from so many people who are overwhelmed or even scared to follow up after a conference.
But as the saying goes, “the fortune is in the follow-up.” The follow-up is how you turn someone you just met into a colleague or client.
So when should you send a follow-up? I’d suggest within a few days of the conference. You want to contact people while everything is still fresh in their memory. Give it a few days to let people get home, settled, and recovered, but follow up within a week of the conference.
You don’t have to send something long or sales-y—simplicity can be your best asset. Here’s an example:
It was great to meet you at [name of conference]. I had a great time chatting with you about [include details of conversation].
Let me know how I can help with what you’re working on. I look forward to staying in touch!
Your initial follow-up shouldn’t be too lengthy, a sales pitch, or a generic-copy-and-paste email. Once they respond, you can continue the conversation and start working on building the relationship.
When networking, it’s easy to think about what others can do for you, but I’ve found it’s far more effective to start with a place of giving. Be useful to others and they’ll be eager to connect with you.
Depending on the type of person you are, conferences can be something you either dread or look forward to. Regardless of where you stand, use these tips to make the most out of any conference.
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