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15 Networking Tips for Conference Attendees

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Right now I am getting ready to head to the main industry conference for Social Media - Social Media Marketing World.
Based in San Diego, and for my third year in a row, I will be speaking on ‘Google’ and social.

What I have found over the years though is a degree of comfort within the community where I have met a lot of great people, established myself as an authority and formed long term friendships.
There are a load of things I have learned along the way though, and for those newcomers (mainly) interested in learning from my mistakes then I hope this post gives you some handy tips. All of which should help you make some quality connections.
Before we get there...

What does it mean to connect with someone?

When you attend networking events you want to come away with 'connections', so let's look at what this means really.

In essence, what contributes a connection looks something like this:

  • the person knows you name
  • they know your face
  • they have some context about what you do
  • they may well know where you are from
  • they can recall the conversations and interactions they've had with you
  • they may have some idea of people you both have in common, and ideally they have a positive vibe about you when they see your face again as an avatar on your social media accounts, when they pick up your business card, or when they receive an email from you.

In other words, being truly connected means a person has the information stored in their brain, and the more contact points you make with a positive outcome, the more the 'map' of who you are is built.

First impressions:

Let’s take a moment to consider what happens when you connect with someone in the real world after you’ve connected with them online beforehand.

Every +1, every comment, every tweet, every hangout, every Skype call has created moments, micro-moments that a person experienced (assuming they are paying attention online, i.e. running their own account).

Then you meet, and they are suddenly 3D. They are real. There is a ‘leap’ in your brain which adjusts the historic relationship you had. Your brain, your memory changes, and it cannot be reversed.

As such, the impression you make really does matter. The clothes you wear, the language you use, the people you are with all matter to create that impression.
And it happens ‘both ways’, as both parties have built a schema of events into an internalized representation of both ‘who you are’ and ‘how you are’.
This is a great opportunity for you to reinforce all the relationship building you’ve done online, and truly deepen the relationship.

Ok, here come the tips for networking:

1. Everything is public.
What do I mean by this? Well, people take pictures and listen to conversations that are happening around them. I experienced a jump in my awareness the first time someone (Mike Gingerich) was tweeting a conversation I was having at the time with Sue B Zimmerman.
It took me a moment to adjust, then I saw that every conversation, every interaction mattered. Obvious now. But it means you may want to think about being ‘on’ 100% of the time.

2. Don’t try to sell yourself too hard.
You are an equal...but you may not feel it. As such you may well over compensate and feel you need to ‘get somewhere’. You don’t. Simply…

3. Focus on the relationships, and think long term.
Imagine you are going to do business with everyone you meet, but not going to do it today/next week/or even this year.
In other words, just enjoy connecting with people.

4. “I have a podcast”, you say.
And as it happens I do, and I will be recording at the conference. But...you don’t need to ‘close the deal’ there and then if you have a true, felt connection.
There is time to catch up online with people afterwards, so don’t fret.

5. “Look into my eyes…”
I mean it, make eye contact with people. Not in a creepy ‘in your face’ kind of a way, but pay attention to people and…

6. Pay attention to people.
I mean, ‘be here now’ sort of attention (h/t Chris Brogan), don’t just look like you are and be thinking ‘I am only talking to Martin until Gary V shows up’, I mean suspend your inner voice as much as you can.

7. Get lots of sleep; get up early.
I know, there is a lot going on. But it is intense and you need sleep.
And join people for walks in the morning. This is a great time to connect.
In fact, you will have more time to chat than you may think. Myself and Eric Tung started a friendship from this base.

8. Walk the hallways.
Instead of always going to all the sessions, look to walk the hallways and connect with other people passing by.
Consistently, this has led to me having quality conversations with people I would not have met otherwise. It is likely you'll meet the speakers have a coffee and chilling, perfect for a quick chat. And far less rushed than you would find them after they give their presentation, surrounded with hundreds of people wanting to ask questions.

9. Don’t be ‘that guy’.
..or girl. You have nothing to prove to anyone except to show people you are friendly and deserve people paying you quality attention too.
(oh, and that includes “don’t try to shag everything that moves…”, especially if you are married)

10. Avoid playing ‘influencer’ bingo with selfies.
 Think about relationships and connecting first. You want them all to ‘take your call in the future’ and having a great conversation is likely to get your further than having trophies for your online cabinet.
p.s. I don't mind having a selfie with you, just know that I would probably rather truly connect as well.

11. Be a connector of people
Helping people connect is never a bad thing. Be that person, like the host of your own party whenever you can. And I mean everyone, and anyone, not just the speakers. People are people and you never know what could happen if you simply play this role.
Also, if you see someone standing on their own, it is a perfect time to introduce them to someone else you may know. Everyone wants to feel part of the experience, help them to do so and you'll win hearts and minds. 

12. Don’t bother mentioning how many followers you have.
No-one really cares. Trust me, I have over 1.3 million, and they really don’t.
(people do care about how you make them feel though.)

13. Humour
Find the people who you get on with the best, and you’ll probably find you share the same sense of humour.

14. Drink Water.
Yes, drink lots of water. And wear comfy shoes. I think Kimberley Reynolds (who connected with Mike Stelzner all those years ago, well, it was at least 2) taught me that.

15. Be friendly and walk the hallways
I've consistently found that be friendly opens up conversations with just about anyone at a conference. You are all 'in it together', so people are usually happy to be approached. Simply saying 'Hey I am Martin, what's your name?' or if they have a badge on saying 'Hey I'm Martin. Good to meet you, Brian' is a great way to start.
Also, look at this phrase when the time is right and you've connected - 'How can I help?' - you may find it opens doors.

Finally…

Enjoy yourself. I mean it, have a good time. To me conferences are work, despite very often meeting great old friends.
I am 100% but also I love the intensity of connecting and re-connecting with people from every corner of the globe. It may well be life changing...
As I say, just about everything I have included here (apart from maybe, maybe #9) has come through reflecting on what has worked to build good relationships, and how I have fallen short in many cases. Hope it helps you have an awesome experience connecting with the people who matter most to you, and everyone else too.

Want to connect with me more to talk business? I run the PYB Academy, and Agency - hit me up here and let's chat!