Conferences and trade shows are great opportunities to meet new business connections. However, with hundreds, often thousands, of people in attendance, effective business networking skills are essential to keep productive and positive conversations flowing. Here are some tips for conferences and the trade show floor:
1. Start relationship building: Approach “networking” from the standpoint of simply building new business relationships. If you go into an event with the mindset of building relationships, it becomes about making new connections, meeting new people and finding out what THEY are about. It takes the pressure of “closing a deal” off of the interaction. Should future business come from your meeting, you have met and connected on a human level, giving the person more insight into who you and your company really are.
2. Nametags and greetings: A warm and inviting smile puts people at ease and makes you seem approachable and assured. Remember to always wear your nametag on your right side- that way, the eye of a new acquaintance can naturally follow your handshake to your nametag. When you introduce yourself, say your name slowly and clearly. This will help people actually catch your name, rather than creating a "what did he/she say?" situation for anyone involved.
3. Perfect your "elevator pitch" to keep it from being all about you: It bears repeating- a well-crafted elevator pitch is essential. Obviously, even with a relationship-building mindset, your business is going to be discussed. The perfect elevator pitch can let someone know what your company does without turning the discussion into a 20-minute diatribe about the benefits of your process or product. Keep it brief and you open the door for discussion about the needs of the person to whom you are talking. Give them the information briefly once, and let the conversation flow from there.
4. Focus on asking, not telling: Yes, of course you need to have your elevator pitch polished and ready to go at all times! But if all you are focusing on is launching into a conversation in order to deliver that pitch, then you are missing the opportunity to get to know the thoughts and needs of the person with whom you are speaking. Show up to a networking event not only with your pitch ready to go, but with open-ended questions prepared to get those conversations started! The key is making sure that they are not simple yes-or-no-questions. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What have you enjoyed most about the event so far?
- How do you feel about your current network?
- What are you looking to achieve at this event?
- How would you describe your greatest challenge with your product/service?
5. Observe body language: Anyone who has ever been trapped in a conversation (who hasn't?) will tell you what an unpleasant situation that can be. This is especially true at a conference, with so many new people to meet. Pay attention to the body language of the person with whom you are speaking- closed arms, shifting feet, and lack of eye contact might mean that they are ready to move on from the conversation. However the reverse is also true- leaning forward with the top of the body, a nodding head, strong eye contact and open gestures tell you they are truly engaged.