26 Quick Tips: How to Network at a Conference Effectively

If you have ever been to a conference or a trade show and felt like it wasn’t all that great, it changes here and now. This first step is determining how to network at a conference successfully. This blog will be a great starting point for attendees and exhibitors. 

Networking helps you build lasting professional relationships that you can leverage for better opportunities. And when done right, it helps you feel like attending an event or a conference was truly worth the effort. This guide will cover a lot of areas. If you’re a student, we’ll teach you how you can get more out of academic conferences. If you’re an organizer yourself, we’ll discuss techniques you can practice to facilitate your attendees for networking. 

How to Network at a Conference: Tips for Attendees 

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 the different ways how you can network at a conference, whether it’s virtual or in-person. 

1. Make Your Agenda Clear

 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 and conference networking can often take the back burner. 

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 to achieve from the meeting. You can’t participate in everything happening at the conference, so prioritize where you want to spend most of your time. 

2. Do Some Pre-Event Research 

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

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 know how to network effectively.

3. Establish Connections Before the Event

Once you know who is going to be at the event, it is time to build some pre-event connections. If you’re wondering how to get the most out of a conference, here are some ideas: 

  • Connect with relevant people on Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social networks. 
  • Send them an email letting them know you want to network at the conference. 
  • Try to engage in conversations before the event, and have a few questions and comments prepared when you meet them.
  • Try to find a common interest that you can use as a conversation starter.  

This way, you make the opposite person aware of your value and interest in their work. This also makes the actual meetings less awkward and allows you to talk to the person for a longer period. 

4. Create a Conference Meeting Schedule

Whether you’re attending an in-person or virtual conference, creating a meeting schedule is important to plan your days. Attending workshops, presentations, meetings, and panel discussions is how you network at a conference. So, you need to make sure that you add everything to your calendar and don’t forget or miss out on a significant opportunity. 

meeting scheduler feature in the vFairs platform

You can’t meet everyone and attend every session at a conference. One of the great conference networking tips to keep in mind is to not pile things on top of each other and prioritize. Scheduling is the key to having a productive conference networking experience. 

5. Leverage Event Apps

Event mobile apps have great features that can help you navigate networking conferences with ease. Mobile apps are ideal if you want to improve networking at your event as they can help you connect with other attendees on the go and easily share information. As an attendee, here are some great mobile app features you can use:

  • Meeting Scheduler: Use a mobile event app to easily schedule meetings with other attendees or exhibitors at a conference.
  • Add Sessions to Calendar: You can add priority sessions from the agenda to a personal calendar.
  • QR Code Contact Sharing: At an in-person conference, you can scan QR codes to send or receive the contact information of other attendees easily.  
  • Chat: Mobile apps often have a chat feature that you can use to talk to attendees who aren’t present at the venue or don’t have enough time to meet them in person. 
  • Event Live Feed: Event live feeds can be a great way to create community-based networking at conferences. Like-minded attendees can connect through the live feed by posting and commenting on topics of interest. From the live feed, conversations can foster long-term and memorable connections.
  • Roundtables: Event apps can also be used to participate in roundtables. Each one is for a specific topic of interest and can be a great way to network effectively.  

6. Use Social Media

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.

7. Stay Approachable to Other Folks

Of course, we don’t want to be manipulative and only socialize when it is in our favor. How do you network without the right attitude? 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 come off as approachable and interested to interact. 

This increases the chances of someone coming up to talk and 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 to remain active and participate in the proceedings of the event. It makes you look approachable and increases your chances of networking.

8. Prepare to Break the Ice

One of the best conference networking tips is that most of the time you want to be the one who 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. 

9. Ask Leading Questions

Some tips for effective small business networking at events and conferences are to 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?

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

10. Sign Up for as Many Sessions as Possible

Most sessions, meet-ups, dinners, etc., have a limited capacity. One of the greatest in person networking tips is that 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 and plan accordingly. Of course, try not to go overboard. There is no point in attending a session if no person of interest will be there. Remember, focus on quality over quantity. 

webinar window

11. 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. Knowing how to network effectively also means knowing when not to. 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.

12. Stay at the Same Hotel as the Conference 

In person attendees should look for lodging at the same hotel as the conference or somewhere close by. vFairs has an accommodation module that can help event organizers streamline lodging preferences for attendees. As an attendee, you can book hotel rooms easily at the time of registration. 

Accommodation Management

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. Moreover, you also avoid the logistical nightmare of traveling to and from the conference every day. 

If you’re staying at the same hotel it is also 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.

13. Explore the Virtual Venue

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.

14. Focus On Your Badge & Business Card

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 networking conferences. The second important aspect is your business card. Many people prefer linking up via social media platforms. While that is more convenient, business cards are a tried and true method of connecting. Handing out business cards also makes you appear serious and confident in your approach. Even if you don’t have a physical business card, make sure you set up a digital one that you can share easily through a QR code scan. Virtual event platforms offer features like profile search and e-business card drop boxes for easy contact sharing as well.

15. Customize Your Pitch

Chances are that you are going to be linking up with a lot of people interested in your organization or the services that you offer. It is always important to elevate your pitch now and then to improve networking at your event. The first 30 seconds of a conversation can be the make-or-break point. Go for a more personal approach rather than using the same generic pitch with every person you meet. 

For example, just the conversation icebreaker you use can make you seem more or less interesting. Know what the person in front of you is looking for and be careful with how you phrase your achievements. In person networking tips for killer elevator pitches are that a few buzzwords here and there don’t hurt but you should have substantial and quantitative stats to follow up your claims with. 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. 

16. Take Notes at Your Meetings 

Looking for more tips for networking at conferences? Here’s another: 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, a neon pink shirt or a mustache. 

Even if you’re attending virtually, virtual conference platforms have 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. 

Here’s a quick recap of the most essential tips for how to network at a conference as an attendee:

How to Network at a Conference: Tips for Organizers 

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. So, how to get the most out of a conference that you’re hosting? Here are some conference networking ideas for event organizers. 

1. Use Your Social Channels

How to network at a conference without leveraging social media? Seems like an impossible task that no one asked you to take up. As an event organizer, the best way to offer attendees networking opportunities at an event is by using your social media and there are no two ways about it. 

You can set up an event page and start by posting speaker profiles. Attendees looking to meet certain speakers at your event are more than likely to find out through social media. This can help them connect easily and also open up your event to the right target audience.

Many events or conferences have websites or social media community pages 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. 

vFairs has a LinkedIn Community Builder that you can add right to your registrations page. Every time an attendee registers, they’d be prompted to also join the event’s LinkedIn page. This can help boost attendee engagement and in turn networking at your event.

LinkedIn Community Builder

2. Focus On the Venue Layout

Whether it’s a virtual or physical event, the venue layout and ease of navigation are especially important. You do not want attendees to feel lost. 

Make the process of visiting different booths or going into different rooms as seamless as possible. Add an interactive floor map on your event mobile app or put up arrows, posters, or standees for easy navigation at your venue. It is best to not go overboard with categorizing everything, and make the layout look as organic and natural as possible.

3. Group-Focused Activities

 Group activities can be one of the key ways for how to successfully network at business events. Creating group events allows people to step out of their comfort zone and engage with new people. You can do this by setting up group competitions like team leaderboards, lunches, team games, speed networking, roundtables, and more. You can set up groups on your own or encourage attendees to socialize and choose who they want to team up with.

what roundtable networking with vFairs looks like

4. Incentivize with Gamification

If you’re wondering how to get the most out of a conference and boost attendee networking, gamifying your virtual and in-person event is one of the best ways to do it. Virtual events can also benefit from virtual team games like team quizzes, scavenger hunts, leaderboard, and more. You can also add QR scavenger hunts and other in-person games for physical events. Not only are games fun but they can also boost interest at your event. Attendees are more likely to engage with others at the event playing a game and it can lead to a lasting relationship.  

event gamification with vFairs

5. Add Virtual Coffee Rooms

All your attendees are going to be asking the same question from you: how to network at a conference you’re hosting? Attendees are always impressed by innovative approaches to networking but you cannot skip some evergreen ways like coffee chats. 

The idea is the same as a coffee space in a regular physical event. Set up a virtual coffee room where people can just sit, talk, and drink coffee in 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. 

You can set it up by choosing spatial networking, an advanced networking feature from vFairs. The module helps you create customized virtual rooms like a park or a coffee room where attendees can enter and roam around. They can virtually interact with the objects inside and move closer to other attendees to talk to them and hear what they’re saying. This way, they still get to interact without feeling like they’re in a virtual abyss.  

6. Introduce Speed Networking

One of the best conference networking ideas to explore is speed networking. Whether you’re hosting virtually or in person, this can be a great way to bring two like-minded people together. You can set up speed networking at your in-person event similar to speed dating. Attendees can come and talk to others in a timed setting. If it doesn’t work out, they quickly move on to the next seat and talk to a different person.

You can execute this by using a smart matchmaking feature. Attendees will answer certain questions individually on their phones or computers. Then the algorithm will put the two with the most compatible answers together in a timed meeting. If the conversation is fun, they can continue it by extending the meeting time. 

Smart matchmaking feature for networking at an event

7. 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 To Network at a Conference as a Student 

Networking is not just for professionals. It can be a great tool for students as well. . 

How to network at a conference isn’t that different for students compared to other attendees. However, here are some exclusive tips for networking at conferences for students:  

1. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Attempt to branch out a bit. Don’t just stay with your classmates or people you usually hang around with. Go to other clubs and 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.

2. Share Your Student Achievements

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.

3. Indulge in Extracurriculars

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. 

How to Network at a Conference: Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you got something valuable out of this guide on how to network at a conference. If you are curious about the actual experience with the networking ideas mentioned in this blog then check out this detailed walkthrough.

Overall, we understand the value and critical aspect of networking when it comes to business, academics, or even students at conferences. Making new and meaningful connections is what helps us grow in the long term. 

26 Quick Tips: How to Network at a Conference Effectively

Syeda Hamna Hassan

Hamna is a Senior Content Marketer at vFairs. She has over 6 years of experience writing content for SaaS, IT, and telecommunications industries. She is a storyteller, content marketing expert, and loves to write about the changing trends in the events industry. When not writing, she's over analyzing every FC Barcelona game.

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