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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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7 ways for trainers to effectively network around a conference


 Conferences are a fantastic place to network, whilst clocking up valuable CPD points… If you are using a conference to network and meet people, then you need to spend more time meeting people rather than sitting quietly taking notes while you listen to the speaker.

Here is our guide for trainers to get the most out of a conference:

1. Look for speaking opportunities

Speaking at conferences is a massive opportunity to build your personal brand and showcase your expertise. As a speaker at a conference, you are afforded a special status – making meeting influential people easier. Very often, your status as a speaker means that attendees will go out of their way to talk to you and find out more about what you do. Often a speaker will get complimentary tickets to the conference. This is not always the case, as there are some trade shows which are now disguised as conferences, where both the speakers, delegates and exhibitors pay for the privilege of being there. In fact I was given the hard sell last week by a conference organiser hoping I would pay anything from £1500 to £15 000 to speak and exhibit at conference full of public sector decision makers…

2. Ask for an attendee list in advance

Go to any event or conference, and you will see people huddled in corners checking the attendee list. If the first time you see the attendee list is actually on the morning of the conference, then you are already at a disadvantage to the experienced networker. Most conferences I have attended are noisy and heaving with people, and it takes many calls and text messages to find someone you have already agreed to meet up with – let alone bump into one of your targets… Having said that, I have been lucky on occasion and sat next to people in masterclasses who I wanted to meet.

The way to increasing the odds of having a good conversation with someone you want to meet, is to contact them in advance of the conference; and arrange to meet over lunch, a coffee break or a session that neither of you want to attend the formal proceedings.

Always ask for the delegate list in advance of the conference – most hosts are normally happy to provide this on request – and use LinkedIn and Google searches to find contact details for the people you want to meet. Most people who are contacted in advance, by other conference delegates, are naturally flattered at the attention, and pleased to have someone to talk to.

3. Don’t be late (or rush off early)

There is normally valuable networking time to be had before the formal part of the conference starts, and after the last formal session of the day. This is time when you could be arranging to meet people for a longer conversation.

4. Engineer who you want to sit next too

When you sit down for lunch, seminar, master class or presentation, you have a fabulous opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the person you are sitting next too. Sitting with one of your colleagues is a waste of a good networking opportunity. Five minutes before a formal session starts, ask your host to introduce you to one of the people you have come to the event to meet. You then simply say ‘I’ve enjoyed our conversation, may I join you…’

If you’ve made the right impression, the answer will normally be ‘yes’, and you now have a huge opportunity to build upon your initial conversation and develop a deeper relationship during the formal event proceedings.

5. Organise your own event within the conference

There is no reason why you have stick slavishly to the formal agenda given to you at registration. Have you thought about organising your own dinner? Or hosting a discussion over lunch?

6. Ask questions

Many people shy away from asking questions in sessions. Having been a guest speaker, I know that speakers want to be asked questions by the audience. There is nothing worse than finishing your presentation and no-one asking a question!

Asking insightful questions based around an area of your expertise is a great way to get noticed by the entire audience. It also gives you something to talk about when someone comes up to you later and says, “That was an interesting question you asked”. When asking your question, make sure you remember to state your name, business and what you do clearly.

7. Follow up

Remember to send an e-mail to all the people you have meet at the conference… and do follow up on your commitments to put some time in the diary to talk more… Remember to add people to your linkedin connections and start following them on twitter.

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Heather Townsend


Read more from Heather Townsend

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