Through various roles, I’ve been attending exhibitions and business events for industries including Entertainment, Leisure and Hospitality for over 12 years. Hardly a fact for a 30-something to boast about, perhaps, but it has given me a keen insight into successfully achieving objectives and crucially getting out alive!
Recent visits to the Restaurant Show and the Independent Hotel Show inspired me to trawl the web for the best articles on this subject. Typically, there are thousands of blogs dedicated to networking at industry events, with so many repeating the same old advice (“don’t be a business card spammer”, “be yourself”) without providing any practical insight.
While I can’t claim this list will revolutionise networking, I do hope it will offer a fresh approach, away from the same stale insights.
1. Read Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point
“The ‘tipping point’ is that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviour combine and spread like wildfire.”
While this is not strictly a book about networking, The Tipping Point is an essential read, guaranteed to change your habits at events.
2. Plan Ahead
Sounds obvious? Perhaps, but without a plan you may as well stay in the office.
Upon registering for an event you should receive details (from the organisers) covering exhibitors, speakers and support clinics as well as links to related social media channels, for the show.
If the show has a Twitter, Facebook and/or a LinkedIn group follow them all and begin interacting immediately. If the LinkedIn group includes attendees you definitely want to meet, consider an unobtrusive way of introducing yourself and suggest taking 10 minutes to meet at the show. This could save you hours of gawping at name badges (see Tip 6).
Make sure you attend any talks or panel discussions relevant to you OR your target audience: you never know whom you might meet or what you might learn.
3. Don’t Dismiss Anyone (Ever)
Whether visiting or exhibiting it is guaranteed that you will meet people who are not direct business targets, but what about their network? It’s conceivable that any attendee connects several influential people who might be very interested in your product.
For example: slaloming my way through a pack of rabid EPOS exhibitors, at the Restaurant Show, I was rudely stopped & (even more rudely) dismissed by a representative for one such company, who will remain nameless.
Correctly, this representative recognised I would not purchase their product: what she did not consider is my network, a large percentage of which is her company’s target market. Unfortunately, to me at least, that company will always be synonymous with rudeness and I’ll be sure to share that with my network.
4. Event Organisers Have The Best Network
Remember those people you’re desperate to meet? Well your hosts know them! Introduce yourself, talk about their event and ask if you can connect on LinkedIn and presto; you’re connected to the most influential people in the room.
5. Don’t Boast, It’s Ugly
For many, the most unattractive aspect of networking relates to those enthusiastic people making wild claims about their product or service. If you’re confident in what you do, there should be no need for grandstanding or embellishment.
In my last article, about handling negative online reviews, I highlighted the plight of proprietors writing their own press. Similarly, if you’re at an industry event boasting about things you haven’t done or can’t deliver, expect to be caught out.
6. Hide Your Name Badge
This maybe a personal foible, hundreds of people walking around a room staring at each other’s name badges (like networking zombies) lacks humanity.
Once I’ve received my badge at the front desk, I pocket it. If someone wants to know me (or what I do), they have to start a conversation, y’know, like real people!
7. Say Hi To Your Competition
There’s nothing healthier than competition, so go say hello. Not to steal leads or gloat, just say hi for 2 minutes, be nice and get on with your day, believe me you’ll feel good for it.
8. Follow Up
There’s no point in going to an event, trudging around for 6 hours, schmoozing to the point where you have to iron out the creases of your forced grin: unless you send follow up emails to your new contacts, within 72 hours of the event. If you fail at this you fail at networking.
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