Regardless of industry one of the top reason people attend conventions is the "Networking Opportunities" -- but once they get there they suck at the process of making legitimate, meaningful and long-lasting connections.
Below is an excerpt from a popular presentation that I present at business meetings, conventions, user conferences and other large gatherings all over the country (I am NOT presenting the "Conference Networking Catalyst Program" at the NSA conference, I am there to listen and learn!).
Having a plan, making networking a priority and being focused on how to help others are just a few of the steps that will help people get the most value from attending these types of events. Follow up is the key to creating mutually beneficial and ongoing conversations. - And it is important to remember that successful networking connections never happens by accident.
Below is the handout that I provided to the attendees at the 2010 SXSW Conference:
Ten Tips For Networking At A Multi-Day Conference
1. Have a plan. Know in advance whom you want to meet (directly or the type of people), which speakers you want to hear, and what tradeshow booths you want to visit.
2. Bring plenty of business cards. In today’s digital world some argue against the importance of business cards. But having a card is not for you, it is for the other person. Some people forget names quickly and asking for a card helps them recall you later. Telling someone “Google Me” is making them work to keep in touch. Additionally we don’t all use the same technologies, so using BUMP (or another digital tool) assumes we all adopt the same technologies. Not carrying business cards can be selfish, and selfish is so last year!
3. Do not focus on meeting the celebrity speakers. While meeting famous authors, speakers, and other gurus is fun, you are one of hundreds who will come up to them and shove a card in their hands. Instead, place your focus on meeting other people in attendance at the event. It is the other attendees who you are most likely to bond with and create real long lasting mutually beneficial friendships.
4. Talk to the people sitting next to you. When you walk into a seminar, take the time before the presentation begins to say hello to the people seated around you. I call this the "power of hello". Once you have said something as simple as "hello", it will be easier to talk with them later in the week if you see them again.
5. Ask questions of people you meet. Never lead with your "elevator pitch". People are more interested in themselves than they are in you, so ask them questions to help them get to talking.
6. Put your technology away. Do not run to your iPhone, BlackBerry, or laptop at every break. When you are working on electronics you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy. Utilize the time on breaks to converse with others. Look around and smile rather than texting like crazy.
7. Do not automatically send a LinkedIn or Facebook request. Too often people immediately send social networking link requests to people they just met. However, different people have different policies about whom they link with. If they believe in only connecting with those whom they have established relationships, you make it awkward if you send them a link too early (which they then ignore). Best is to ask people if they would welcome such a link at this time. Be respectful of the fact that they might use social networking differently than you do. Immediately following them on Twitter is okay, as Twitter does not require a mutual connection acceptance.
8. Read their stuff. Many people are active bloggers, tweeters, authors, etc... If people create the written word, seek out their work and read it. It is a great way to get to know people by reading their stuff, but they will also be honored when you tell them that you read their blog or follow them on Twitter.
9. Introduce others. When you meet cool people, be the conduit that connects them with others who might be beneficial to them. This includes others at the conference, as well as other people you might know back home. If you ask the right types of questions, you will easily spot connections that can help others. Don't ever worry about "what's in it for me", but instead just be the person who helps others. You will over time that others will help you too.
10. Follow up. If you meet interesting people and you never follow up, it makes no difference. Own the follow up after you meet people and send them an email (or better yet, a handwritten note) telling them how much you enjoyed talking with them, and plan for future discussions.
11. Do more than others expect from you. Bring more to a new relationship than the other person expects and they will always remember you as someone who is a giver. Invite them along to lunch or dinner with your group of friends or get them into a cool party. Those who give always get more down the line.
If you are going to the NSA Conference.... or any industry convention.... make your networking efforts count!
Have A Great Day