The content person's guide to conference networking (pt 1)

Recently I read a really great post about networking at conferences called How to Connect a Conference: Or, I Can’t See your IQ From Across the Room by Jason Seiden. It’s fantastic.

Jason writes for a marketing and HR crowd but he got me thinking about technical communicators and web content people, how we network and how we can do it better – especially since I’m not only attending this week’s Tech Comms UK conference but presenting at it. (Full story on that and our TCUK content strategy case study here!)

I’m not sure the content crowd’s ‘over-the-top, crazy-dress-to-get-noticed’ skills are quite that polished – or even that we would want them to be. We’re a crowd more likely to stand back and quietly observe. We write. We analyse. But we’re not, for the most part, in-your-face sorts. We like to have a good time but we’re different. And because of the online nature of our work, we’re meeting most of these people face to face for the first time.

With so many conferences organised around our exploding field of communication, wouldn’t a ‘Content person’s guide to conference networking’ be useful? One that dealt with the already connected nature of our work and made the most of that?

It’s a fact that most of us are more likely to have a strong online presence than know everyone in the room. It’s also a fact that in the digital world we are connecting in a multitude of virtual ways: on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, email, blogs, discussion groups and so on. We’re also pretty dispersed in the physical world – most of us have to fly in from long distances to meet at a content conference. So that makes a conference a bit like a pow-wow for like-minded professionals, no? It’s fun to meet in a physical world where most other people have some kind of connection to what we do.

Borrowing from some of Jason’s networking pointers and adding a few more in, here are 10 ways that will help a content person build connections when networking at conferences.

10 tips for ultimate conference networking

    1. Connect pre-conference
      Who is going that you’d like to meet? Review Twitter conference hashtags, attendee lists and conference discussion groups, and say hello to those you’d like to meet. Many people check their social network and conference hashtags while travelling to the conference so you can network right up until the first panels begin.
    2. Roster research and networking
      Many conferences will have some kind of attendee roster from a simple PDF list to SXSW’s dedicated social network site. Is there anyone you have something in common with? Connect online and make arrangements to meet at the conference. You will have something ‘real’ to say and an exponential chance of building a meaningful connection that will last post-conference.
    3. Go beyond 140 characters
      Seek out your Twitter buddies – conferences offer a great opportunity to put a face to the funny Twitter name. Monitor who is tweeting at the panels you attend and start a conversation with them. Play Twitter bingo and say where you are sitting in the room, inviting people to come and say hi.
    4. Take it to LinkedIn
      If you make a meaningful contact where you think you can move your professional relationship forward, why not connect on LinkedIn? Twitter can be both personal and professional but LinkedIn offers a more work-oriented level of networking and reference opportunities – if it’s used right.
    5. Step away from the comfort zone!
      Don’t just stick to meeting the people you know. You’re here to widen your network and opportunities. This may sound obvious but I’m surprised how many people do this to stay in their comfort zone. But the real action is often to be found in the random meetings and corridor conversations that you’ll have. So remind yourself why you’re there and get out and meet those people you’ve been meaning to since you started following them on social media. Nowhere is it more acceptable to go up and just say hi than at a conference.
    6. Smile :-D
      Who can resist a friendly face? Even if they can, you’re much more likely to connect than if you don’t. 
    7. Don’t be overbearing
      Remember, people are attending conferences to learn and make as many meaningful connections as they can. Give them enough information about you to know who you are, and then listen to them. If a real exchange is going to happen, it will be because you both have an interest in each other.
    8. Present
      If want to engage in your field, present to your colleagues. Then, people will want to meet you… Don’t forget to post up your contact details at the end of your presentation.
    9. Seek out the organisers
      As a seasoned conference organiser, I love this one from Jason, which he calls ‘Give to the givers’. The conference organisers put on the event because they care about the subject matter of the conference passionately. Why else would they go to all of that trouble? And they’ve had lots of contact with the ‘famous’ people presenting, so there’s likely to be an existing relationship there. So many people overlook the conference organisers – at their own peril – but they are a treasure chest of information. Form some thoughtful questions, then introduce yourself. You’ll be prepared and can probably ask for some more introductions from them. As a conference organiser, I know it works.
    10. Final words: Be prepared
      Don’t miss a fabulous opportunity from last-minute lack of organisation. Simple things can help a lot:
    •     Wear your badge visibly, not tucked behind your hair or under your jacket.
    •     Carry conference materials with you – it’ll help you spot other conference-goers, too.
    •     Have something to write with – you can’t beat a pen and some paper in a crunch; digital conferences are notorious for a lack of power points for recharging batteries.
    •     Bring your business cards because not everyone has a fancy smartphone app for ‘bumping’ or scanning contact details. Just make sure you can exchange your vital stats when it’s vital.
      I know, I sound like your mother, but really, how are you going to recognise that person and exchange contacts if you don’t take these simple first steps

With these tips, and an outgoing approach at your next conference, you’re likely to make some more meaningful connections that will last over time. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a few more tips and reminders on general good practice for conference networking.

Until then, I’d love to know what tips have worked for you when networking? Do you have any advice to share?

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