Conferences and trade shows can offer a multitude of opportunities from a networking perspective. If you're willing and able to put yourself about, and track down the important people in the room, you can add some valuable names to your address book. It could be the leaders of another business involved in your industry, or somebody you'd like to invest in your enterprise. It might be a thought leader, whose insight can add value to your business and help you take it to the next level.

But what you have to remember is that important people also tend to be busy people. You won't, by any means, be the only person who wants to network with them. As such, if you do manage to pin such individuals down for a conversation, you've got to make it count. And this means making a great first impression.

You need to be memorable, without being an irritant, and this means engaging with the other person naturally and finding some common ground. If you have nothing of interest to say, it's likely the other person will look to exit the conversation as soon as possible. So before approaching important people at trade shows or conferences, you need to think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your opportunity:

  • Be confident - the person you are speaking to may have greater stature, but they are still just a human being like you. Think about your own strengths, rather than getting intimidated about speaking to somebody important.
  • Choose your timing - if you attempt to collar the other person for a chat when they are busy, you might get given short shrift. Check through the events timetable and look for times of the day when you may be able to grab them for five minutes without distraction.
  • Be personable - always be friendly and courteous when approaching others, and respect their personal space if they don't have time to chat. If they are willing to speak to you, make eye contact and maintain good posture.
  • Have something to say - it's worth thinking of a few potential icebreakers, in order that you can have as normal and natural a conversation as possible. The less forced the dialogue is, the more you stand to gain from it. If there's anything you have in common with your conversation target, this is a good starting point.
  • Speak clearly - ensure the other person can understand the points you are making. You need to be loud enough to be heard but not too loud, as you don't want to come across as being overbearing.
  • Practise a few lines - if there are certain points you wish to make about your business or career, have them prepared in your head beforehand, especially if you are making a pitch. You want to get the key information across as neatly and concisely as possible.
  • Listen - you've managed to attract the attention of an important figure; now you have to listen to what they have to say. Don't just bark at them with your own ideas and opinions. If you have a natural, interesting chat, there's a much greater chance they will remember you and add you to their contacts book.
  • Read the signs - avoid trying to drag things on for too long. If the other person shows signs that they are ready to move on, you should be the person who curtails the conversation. Thank them for their time, give them your business card ad and express hope that you may speak again in the future.