You're heading to a conference or exhibition and looking to build up your industry contacts book. This means putting yourself out their and networking with the people who matter. The only problem is, you're not exactly sure what to do.
There's more to business networking than simply gatecrashing somebody else's conversation and throwing a sales pitch at them. If this is your approach, you're not likely to get very far. In fact, some of the people you'd like to get to know will go out of their away to avoid your intended meeting.
If you're new to networking and worried about making a positive impression with other people operating in your industry, this is what we'd suggest:
1. Research the conference
First of all, you need to find out everything you can about the event you are planning to attend. Which people are attending, and who do you most want to talk to? If you're just starting out in networking, it may be worth going for mid-level individuals rather than company CEOs. They may have more time to spare and be more interested in what you do in business.
2. Print some business cards
Ahead of the conference or exhibition, you may want to print some business cards, containing your title, role description and contact details. Then, if you do meet people you'd like to do business with, you have something to give them. Unless they have your details, how will they be able to get in touch?
3. Practice your introductions
When you're approaching people you haven't met before, it's possible that nerves can take over. It's worth practising your introductions with a friend or family member, in order that you can speak confidently and fluently. Busy people attending a conference or exhibition won't have the time or inclination to watch you splutter your words out.
4. Dress appropriately
At the event, your choice of attire is important. If you want people to take you seriously, you need to dress professionally according to the standards in your industry. You might want to wear a suit, but at the very least you need to have an ironed shirt and polished shoes. Always brush or comb your hair, to ensure you are suitably turned out.
5. Enter a conversation
Having researched the people you want to speak to, you should have knowledge about their personal or company achievements and be able to ask them relevant questions. This gives you the chance to enter into 'natural' conversation with the other person, even if it is a little stage-managed. It is much better to open up with a couple of queries rather than starting off by telling them how wonderful your own company is.
6. Be memorable
If you're lively, interesting and engaging, there's a much greater chance the people you network with will pick up the phone in the future. At conferences and exhibitions, some attendees may network with dozens of people - and many of them will be instantly forgettable. If you're able to find some common ground, and chat about a shared interest or view, there's a much greater chance they will remember meeting with you.