With the uncertainty in the economy, it’s more crucial than ever to get out there and network to

uncover opportunities that are starting to bubble but have yet to break the surface. One of my favorite places to do this is at industry conferences and large seminars.

Not only do you get a chance to hear about new trends and breakthrough ideas that can help your business or career, but you also get a chance to meet other folks who are highly interested in the same thing and willing to make the investment to attend.

Leaders are networkers

These are the folks not hiding in their offices waiting for a government bailout or some other miracle. They’re leaders who are taking action and moving forward.

Networking successfully at a big event like a trade show, seminar, or conference comes down to taking charge of your own experience by developing a cohesive plan, leveraging all available resources, and using your time wisely.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing tips for maximizing networking efforts at your next big event.

51296708_5c0223ed94Before you arrive

Here are the first two: what to do BEFORE you arrive…

1.  Expand your search for non-obvious events. It may be a given that you need to make an appearance every year at the big trade show for your industry, but you also should broaden to other events your target market might attend.  The more tightly defined the conference is, the chances that your competitors will be there too will be slim, and the more likely you’ll be able to differentiate yourself.  You might choose a specific demographic niche, such as women or baby boomers, a professional niche, such as lawyers or doctors, or a special interest niche, such as sports or gourmet food.

One year when I wanted to fill my business consulting practice, I attended the annual conference for the American Cheese Society, which puts on a great multi-day event for cheese makers, retailers and distributors culminating in the Festival of Cheeses (if you like gourmet cheese, trust me, it’s a must do!).  Not only did I have the best time learning how a whole new industry works, I also won a number of consulting projects from companies who had never met a business consultant before, but sure needed one.

To find trade shows or conferences in your industry or region, check out Trade Show Week or Trade Show News.  Also search online for associations in subject areas in which you have a personal or professional interest, then check their websites for information about their annual conference. Tap into your network as well for ideas and recommendations.

2.  Clarify your goals. Think about what you hope to gain at the conference.  Most people go for a vague combination of information and inspiration, but the more specifically you can articulate what you are seeking, the better you’ll be able to choose how to spend your time.

A couple of years ago, for example, I attended a conference on behalf of a client and laid out some very clear goals:  “To find out what other companies are doing to reach Hispanic audiences and to identify potential partners to help my client enter that market.”  Having such clarity of purpose helped me narrow down which breakout sessions to attend, which speakers to meet, how to introduce myself to them, what information to collect, and what questions to ask fellow participants.

Having clear goals makes it easier to hone in on making the right connections and engage in meaningful conversations. Otherwise, your networking efforts will be unfocused and important conversations will go nowhere.

Stay tuned next week for additional tips and how to maximize the conference once you’re there.


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.