12 Foolproof Ways to Network During a Conference

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 21, 2013

Networking is Essential

Industry conferences offer outstanding opportunities for networking. They’re ideal places to meet new people, catch up with those you already know and -- if you plan it right -- introduce yourself to your next employer. But that's easier said than done, especially if you're new to the conference scene or you've never been taught any networking skills. But whether you're an extrovert who fits naturally into any situation or someone who has a hard time meeting and talking to new people, networking is a necessary skill if you're looking to get ahead.

With that in mind, here are 12 tips for successful networking at a conference.

12. Target Prospects in Advance

Some conferences publish attendee lists in advance of the event. If yours does, get the list and look it over to see who you want to connect with ahead of time. Make sure you target the events your best prospects are likely to visit. You may even want to contact them before the conference and arrange to get together while it's being held. 

11. Make Every Minute Count

While it's tempting to potentially cut down on costs, you need to stay at the hotel where the conference is being held. If that's not possible for some reason, do your absolute best to make sure you stay somewhere very close by, so you don’t waste precious time commuting. Also, when booking your trip leave a little time to decompress before you go to the first meeting.

10. Keep Your Hands Free

Eat before you go to the events where food is served.

Although this sounds simple enough, too many people either don't think about or blatantly ignore the fact that it's hard to handle a drink and a plate of food while you’re shaking hands and exchanging business cards. With so many people introducing themselves, you want to be remembered -- just make sure it's not as the person who dropped a plate full of pasta in the middle of the room.

9. Take Ownership of the Room

Be an early arrival at the events you’re going to attend. You'll feel more comfortable as the crowd builds, and this can be especially useful if you tend to be shy with new people.

Although it can be intimidating, you need to avoid becoming a wallflower in these situations. Not only aren't you meeting anyone new, but others might assume you're not worth getting to know because you're not putting out any effort.

8. It's About Them, Not You

Try to build a few high-potential relationships rather than exchange your card with everyone.

The best way to do this is by showing interest in the people you meet instead of trying to sell yourself at every turn. You can offer to provide information that's useful to them later, either at the conference or by connecting with them down the road. In the meantime, make your conversations about them, not about you. Don't offer your business card until you've established a relationship.

A little sincerity goes a long way towards relationship-building.

7. Avoid Autopilot

A conference isn't a place for an elevator speech.

The door isn't suddenly going to open. You’re beginning a dialogue, not making a presentation. Tailor what you have to say about yourself so it's appropriate to the discussion you're having. There's a finite amount of time you can spend with each person, which leaves precious little time for aimless chit-chat or fumbling around for the right words.

6. Always Give Your Full Attention

The person with whom you're speaking is worthy of your full attention.

While this should go without saying, noticeably glancing sideways to see who else is around is off-putting and unprofessional. If you decide you don't want to keep talking, you can simply say you enjoyed the conversation, wish the person success, and move on. But all it takes is rubbing the right person the wrong way just once to lose a potentially crucial networking connection.

5. It's All About Attitude & Body Language

Your posture and movement should be confident and relaxed. If you smile and look friendly you'll be approachable, and you’ll be welcomed when you approach others.

If the person you want to meet is talking with someone, don't interrupt. Wait for the conversation to finish on its own before you introduce yourself at that point. And when you shake hands, do so firmly and without becoming the wet noodle or crushing bones.

4. Showcase Your Business Smarts

Ask thoughtful questions at the Q&As that follow presentations. Speak loudly and concisely, and if you disagree that's fine as long as you do so courteously.  Do this right and you can impress the entire room. Be creative, original, and surprising. Let them see you as an idea person -- but not a know-it-all.

Let's say the speaker is one of the people you want to meet. Sit where you can approach the podium quickly after the presentation and engage the speaker with an incisive comment about the presentation. If the speaker is mobbed, email your thoughts after the conference. To get your message noticed, enter the name of the presentation in quotes in the message's subject field.

3. Get a Wing Man

You might find it useful to go to the conference with someone else. A wing man (of either gender) can welcome you into the conversations he or she is having and introduce you to others who the person knows. You should learn that person’s objectives for the conference and reciprocate, of course.

Two people can cover a lot more ground than one.

2. Use "Memory Joggers"

To remember a conversation, make some quick notes on the card the other person gave you. Trouble remembering faces? Make some notes about that person's appearance too so you're able to differentiate between the dozens of people with whom you'll communicate over the course of the conference.

There's nothing more embarrassing than when someone addresses you by name but you have no idea who they are or what they do.

1. ALWAYS Follow Up

As you exchange cards with people you want to stay in touch with, suggest a way to get together again and a topic about which to correspond. Send "nice to meet you" messages when you get back to the office. Build on your relationships via email and social media. Invite your contacts to share their thoughts and concerns with you. Help them in ways you want to be helped -- with useful links and introductions, for example. Give the other person as much as you expect to get.

Overall just be consistent. You don’t want to have a flurry of activity followed by dead period, and then try to restart the relationship when you need the other person.

Use Salary.com to Get Ahead

With any luck, this great networking advice will lead you to a new job. But after the networking is done, the salary negotiations begin. The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.