12 Quick Tips: How to Effectively Network at a Conference

If you have ever been to a conference or a trade show and felt like it wasn’t all that great, there could have been various reasons for it. With that said, networking can also play a role in how you feel about a conference. If you didn’t pay much heed to networking, that could be a reason why you felt the conference wasn’t worth the trouble. Some attendees have noted that these feelings are heightened when using virtual event platforms for conferences.

Networking helps you to build a better network. And when done right, it helps you feel like attending an event or a conference was truly worth the effort.

To quote Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and CO-Founder of Ellevest:

“Networking is the number one unwritten rule of success in business.”

So, don’t take it from us, take it from established and successful entrepreneurs. Most of them will emphasize the importance of networking. And what better place to expand your network than a conference?

Networking at a conference can be a great way to form professional relationships, explore new avenues, and further your career. But how to network at a conference? Are there any tried and tested ways? Let’s explore all this and more. And by the end of this guide, you’ll be networking like a true entrepreneur.

This guide will be covering a lot of areas. If you’re a student, we’ll teach you how you can get more out of academic conferences. If you are an organizer yourself, we’ll discuss techniques you can practice to facilitate said networking.

But before we get into all of that, let’s talk about how you can effectively network at a conference.


How Do You Network Effectively at an Event?

Whether you’re new to conference-style events or a seasoned veteran, take note of these 11 tips on how to level up your networking game.

1. Make Your Agenda Clear

This is something that you should keep in the back of your mind when attending any sort of business event. Conferences, trade fairs, exhibitions, seminars, etc., all move at a blistering pace these days. With so many of them happening all the time, they can go by pretty quickly.

If you’re at a company that takes part in a lot of these events, things can get quite frantic. However, you can keep your mind at bay by having a clear agenda.

It is overwhelming and incredibly easy to get lost in the flow of these events. However, knowing what you want out of a conference helps. Know what sessions you are going to attend, who is worth meeting for you, and what you want the result of this visit to be. You can’t participate in everything happening at the conference, so think of this early on.

2. Do Your Research & Establish Connections Before the Event

Having a head start has never hurt anybody. The same applies to these conferences. You don’t want to wait until the day of the conference to build your connections. Before going into an event, find out who is attending and who are the people you want to talk to do.

After that, do your research on their projects, blog posts, socials, and company news. This allows you to be prepared ahead of time and shows that you are in the loop.

Not only that, you should attempt connecting with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other networking application they use. Try to engage in conversations before the event, and have a few questions and comments prepared when you meet them. Using this approach, you make the opposite person aware of your value and interest in their work.

Sending an email telling them that you only want to communicate for a couple of minutes is a great way to get started. This also makes the actual meetings less awkward and allows you to talk to the person for a longer period. Of course, the success of this will vary from person to person.

3. Always Schedule Your Meetings

This point almost falls in line with our first one. Creating a schedule and having clear goals ahead is always a good thing, and not just in conferences. So before attending, be aware of the speakers and presenters that you want to listen to. Set reminders so you know when someone is going to talk to an audience and where they are giving said presentations.

You can’t meet everyone and attend every session at a conference. Don’t pile things on top of each other, or you might end up missing an opportunity to meet or listen to an important person. Scheduling is the key to having a productive conference experience. 

4. Use Your Socials

While you are at the event, it is a good idea to post something or send out a tweet now and then about the conference. An even better idea is to tag the people you meet or even the people you want to meet. You can leave compliments about people’s panels and the actual conference as well. Use event #hashtags as well so you can have a higher success rate with this strategy.

More often these days, events integrate with social media walls that aggregate all the posts with their event hashtag. If your event features a social wall, check it out and comment on others’ posts to make connections.

You never know, someone might respond or say they want to meet you. Maybe it’s an old colleague or someone who has a business idea in mind.

5. Stay Approachable to Other Folks

Of course, we don’t want to be manipulative and only socialize when it is in our favor. Even if you have that approach outside of conferences, it’s best to not adopt that at a business event. Avoid spending time outside of the conference on your devices or just at the bar. You want to look open and engaged most of the time. 

This increases the chances of someone that wants to discuss something of value with you. It’s not about just knowing how to network at a conference, it’s also about knowing when to network.

And if you’re attending a virtual conference, it’s important that you remain active and participate in the proceedings of the event. It makes you look approachable and increases your chances of networking.

6. Prepare to Break the Ice

Most of the time, you want to be the one that starts a conversation and keeps it going. This is certainly even more important if you are not a higher-up executive. You will likely have to approach people rather than vice versa. With so many conversations happening all around, it is likely that at some point a conversation won’t quite go anywhere.

This is something you want to avoid, as it makes you look uninteresting. Be open to discussing your projects and the company you’re working with/for. If you don’t have much value to offer, the other approach is to ask meaningful questions. Avoid small talk, and ask questions like the following:

  • What has interested you so far in this conference?
  • Have you worked on anything exciting recently?
  • What sessions are you looking to attend later on?
  • Do you attend many conferences? If so, what has that experience been like?

And even if you’re attending the conference remotely, you can always start a live chat and communicate with people that have similar interests and/or goals.

7. Sign up for as Many Sessions as Possible

Most sessions, meet-ups, dinners, etc. tend to have a limited capacity. You must get on the lists for as many of these as you can. They are known to be great social opportunities for many professional folks.

Check the conference organizer’s website to know what the schedule looks like. You want to plan out your meetings and sign up for as many sessions as you can. Of course, try not to go overboard. Remember, focus on quality over quantity.

Another great way to seem involved with the event is by using social media. Check the event’s page or Twitter account to see what type of sessions will be taking place. This also allows you to build a network of people before the conference begins.

interprefy in action

8. Know When to Get Out of a Conversation

We are going to be honest, some conversations at these conferences can be dry and they don’t lead to anywhere viable. This is why it is incredibly important to know how to get out of these conversations. Of course, you want to do so politely so that you don’t come off rude or arrogant.

Excuse yourself from the conversation and tell the other person that you will catch up later on. If they are smart, they will take the hint.

9. Stay at the Same Hotel as the Conference 

This one is not exactly viable these days as a lot of conferences still take place online or in some sort of virtual state. However, as we move back into the in-person and hybrid event model, this tip can help out a lot. This way, you don’t limit yourself to meeting people just at the conference. You can run into people in hallways, the hotel lobby, or even at the gym.

While keeping this in mind, it’s important to remember that being holed up in your hotel room all day isn’t a great idea. Get out there and visit areas of interest. If there is a pool, go there and socialize. If there is a gym, try to go and get a workout as well. You never know who you might run into during these scenarios. You might even meet someone over lunch or dinner in the hotel.

If you’re attending virtual conferences, it is best to visit the event website beforehand and get as much information as you can. Navigate and familiarize yourself with the platform before the big event to avoid any issues during it. It lets you be at ease and focus on the event and networking rather than trying to figure out how to navigate the platform.

10. Focus On Your Badge & Business Card

All of these things seem quite simple at first, but they can have a major impact on your overall experience when it comes to networking. Your company badge is your identity. You want to wear it proudly so people know who you are and what organization you are a part of. This allows you to reach a more targeted audience at these events.

The second important aspect is your business card. Many people these days just say that they prefer linking up via socials. While that is more convenient, business cards are a tried and true method of connecting.

Mention your socials, contact info, e-mail, and anything else of value on this card. Handing out business cards also makes you appear serious and confident in your approach.

Virtual event platforms offer things like profile search and e-business card drop boxes for this purpose, so take advantage of that offering too. 

11. Customize Your Pitch

Chances are that you are going to be linking up with a lot of people that are interested in your organization or the services that you offer. It is always important to customize your pitch now and then for these scenarios. Go for a more personal approach rather than using the same generic pitch with every person you meet. 

For example, just the phrasing of the words can make you seem more interesting. Know what the person in front of you is looking for. Always try to provide something of value to them, rather than just informing them of everything you or your company does. This shows that you are professional and to the point. 

12. Make Notes at Your Meetings 

Make sure you take notes of each conversation you have. Writing down your key takeaways from the conversation will help you with your follow-up communications and further foster deep connections from the conference. Even notable points about your connections’ appearances will help you recall your conversation better. For example, if someone was wearing a memorably coloured shirt, you can write down ‘red shirt’ so you can visualize that person later on.

Even within virtual events, there are features that allow you to make notes and create tags that are only visible to you or your team. This helps you remember who you want to continue the conversation with post-event and you can pick up exactly where you left off. 

embedded chat in vFairs

How Do You Facilitate Networking at a Conference?

Now that we’ve given visitors and attendees a good idea of how to improve their networking skills at conferences, it is time to talk about the hosting end of the event.

If you are an event manager, you are already aware that a huge chunk, if not most, of the attendees are there for networking. Therefore, a successful event is such that facilitates networking (one of the prime attractions of a conference).

So, if you’re planning on hosting a conference anytime soon, go through the following passages to get actionable advice on how to facilitate networking at your conference. 

Use Your Social Channels

As an event organizer, the best way to market an event is by using your social media. Before the event, encourage attendees to sign up for as many sessions as they can. You can even provide additional benefits to people who sign up first. This gives people an incentive to show up at various sessions and socialize with other people in their field.

Tweet or post about sessions before, after, and especially during the event. This will make the event feel more engaging.

walls.io integration

Build an App or Online Community

We have seen this concept be quite successful in the past. Many events or conferences have websites/applications where attendees can go and see what’s going on. Incorporate an environment where people can attach their LinkedIn profiles, social media, resumes, and personal portfolios.

This allows people to easily see who is attending the conference and who they would like to meet. 

Focus On the Venue Layout

Whether it’s a virtual or physical event, optimizing the venue layout is especially important. You do not want people to feel like they are lost or that they don’t have any sense of direction. Make the process of visiting different booths or going into different rooms as seamless as possible. Do not go overboard with categorizing everything, and make the layout look as organic and natural as possible.

At virtual events, it’s even more important to focus on the layout. Since virtual events are still relatively new, most people will feel uncomfortable and face trouble navigating the virtual venue. It can, however, be minimized by creating an easy to navigate and engaging layout.

Group Focused Activities

This is a concept that has worked wonders for events and organizations in the past. Creating group events allows people to get into a circle that they normally wouldn’t engage in. You can do this by setting up competitions, lunches, games, and more.

The twist is that these activities should be exclusive to groups only. This encourages people to go out and socialize so they can form a group for these activities.

The good news is that games are not just limited to physical conferences, virtual conferences can also host games. In fact, it’s recommended to do so since a lot of virtual events face engagement issues and gamifying your event is one of the most effective ways to increase event engagement.

If you’re looking for ideas, check out the 6 best virtual games to keep attendees engaged at events.

vFairs miro integration

Networking for Virtual Conferences

There are additional steps that you can take as an event manager to make sure your virtual events are just as effective and successful as physical events. Here are a few ideas that you can implement within virtual conferences

Gamify Events

As we’ve already discussed, a great way to increase engagement and socializing is by “gamify-ing” events. A lot of organizations already do this in physical capacities, and the same implies here. Scavenger hunts and leaderboards can be hosted both at in-person events and virtual events.

Set up a points system that awards points based on how many connections people make or how many sessions they take part in. This will encourage engagement and socializing. You can also set up scavenger hunts, games like ‘two truths, one lie’, and more. 

Virtual Coffee Rooms

The idea is the same as a coffee space in a regular physical event. Setup a virtual coffee room where people can just sit, talk, and drink coffee within the comfort of their own homes. People can engage with others if they want to. It can be quite a mellow experience for visitors and takes the edge off from a busy event. 

Discuss Ideas With Exhibitors or Speakers

Exhibitors and organizers are experts when it comes to increasing engagement. If you are planning a virtual event, you will likely be doing so with a company that offers the software services to accomplish it. Speak with them, your exhibitors, speakers, and influencers. It is their job to increase engagement among the audience, so they will likely have some unique ideas that are specific to your event.

How Do Students Network at a Conference?

Networking is not just for professionals. It can be a great tool for students as well. So, let’s take a look at some advice for students who want to learn how to network at a conference. Here are a few tips.

  • Attempt to branch out a bit. Don’t just stay with your classmates or people you usually hang around with. Go to other clubs, committees, and see what they have to offer. You want to get out of your comfort zone if you want to truly experience a productive academic conference.
  • If you have done some interesting work or research on a topic, show it off when the opportunity arises. Maybe someone else has worked on something similar, or they could add something of value to your research. This will allow you to gather more input and make meaningful connections that will help you down the line.
  • Take part in group and community activities. A great advantage of colleges and schools is the number of clubs, committees, and groups that form over time. If students have set up a booth for their club, go and visit as many of them as you can. This will allow you to see if you should be looking at some more extracurricular activities outside of academics. 

an image of a webinar

Final Thoughts

Overall, we understand the value and critical aspect of networking when it comes to business, academics, or even hobbyist events and conferences. Making new and meaningful connections is what helps us grow in the long term. Hopefully, you got something valuable out of this guide.

Curious to Know More?

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Conferences

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12 Quick Tips: How to Effectively Network at a Conference

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