People have heard me say many times that I tend to avoid networking events. What? A networking expert not getting out face-to-face? Don’t I practice what I preach, especially since the subtitle of my book is “attract a following in person and online?”

Of course I do! I think networking in person is a vital component of every networking plan. And despite the growing popularity of online networking, I don’t believe face-to-face networking will ever go away. Case in point is the number of social media conferences taking place in the world every year. Even people who network online all the time still want to see each other in person!

Live event networking is definitely a part of my strategy, but I’m very specific about the events I attend because I’m always trying to maximize my time and effort. So I’ll network at events where I’m speaking, for example. After all, that’s a highly targeted audience that is definitely interested in what I have to share.

Maximize your time and effort

2502528498_126c0e6cf6I’ll also go to conferences, consolidating time I would have spent at a bunch of small events every month and going to a few large ones over the year instead. This may not be the right strategy for you—Smart Networking is all about choosing the right mix of networking activities for your goals at a specific point in time—but if you do go to conferences regularly or will be going to one in the near future, I hope you’ve found this series helpful for getting prepared.

Three tips to act on

Here are three final tips for putting your plan into action and helping to ensure you make those high-impact connections that could really make a difference in your business or career:

Ask organizers for help

Conference organizers want you to meet your objectives so you’ll come back next year and hopefully bring some colleagues as well, so don’t be shy about enlisting their help.  It’s a simple two-step process.

First, you have to find one of them. One place to look is the registration desk, or, even better, if the conference is big enough, the Speaker’s Lounge, where speakers check in and hang out before and after their talks. You can also see them in the back of the seminar room making sure everything is going smoothly.  Often, they’ll be holding walkie talkies.

Second, you have to articulate your request. If there’s a specific person you’d like to meet, say, “I’d love to say hello to Mr. X, would you mind introducing me?” Or, if you’re looking for a specific type of person but don’t have a name, you might say, “I know there are some folks here from ABC Company, what’s the best way to find them?” or “I’m looking for someone in the PR field, is there someone you could introduce me to?”

Get out of the seminar room

317632613_746e812676As a speaker at conferences, I should be biased towards encouraging participants to stay in their seats at keynotes and breakout sessions and soak up as much information as possible.  However, as a networker, I know that conversations during breaks and meals and in the hallway can be extremely valuable for building relationships that can help your business.

Be sure especially to take advantage of any unique networking opportunities offered at the conference. More and more, organizers are trying to facilitate connections among participants in unique ways, through structured networking events and other creative programs.

A conference I attended a few years ago in Washington D.C. offered a dine-around event where participants were divided into small, pre-determined groups (to separate people from similar companies and professions) and set up for dinner at local restaurants.  I shared wine and great food with industry leaders who are still part of my network today.

Make time for the follow up

350177616_9b4b28946dTo build on those connections you made, block out some time when you’re back at the office for following up. Don’t just throw the stack of business cards into your drawer, sort through them and pick out the folks you really see a synergy with, or can offer some help to right now, or can connect to someone already in your network.

To make the process easier, read my post on Setting up for Success Follow Up, because there are things you can do at the conference itself to make this step much more efficient and effective.

Although Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up, networking successfully at conferences, trade shows, and conventions takes a little more effort.

By just showing up, you’ll probably still have a fine time, get useful information, and meet some nice people, but a little focus and upfront prep can make the experience more relevant for your needs, and result in a much bigger payoff for your time and investment.


Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.