At Vable we like to make sure that you're up to date and aware of all library and information conferences and events. The world has recently been turned upside down by COVID-19 but the need for networking is as important than ever. We need to remember the where, why, who, what for when we are finally - and safely - attending events again.
We spend most of our days behind a computer screen, meaning that it is far easier to connect with a new person online than it is in reality. When it comes to networking in a sea of strangers it is all too easy to be overcome with fear of looking like a fool or lack of confidence. Thankfully, there are a whole host of methods by which to combat this.
When attending conferences it’s all too easy to stick with the people you know, avoiding strangers and the chance to make new contacts. Whilst building on your current connections is certainly key, it’s essential to step out of your comfort zone and expand your network of contacts.
With this in mind, try and schedule in specific time for networking opportunities, such as breakout sessions and round tables, that fit in with the other talks you want to attend. Not only will this give you the extra nudge to introduce yourself during these times but it will also allow you a bit of ‘off time’ in between.
If you feel as though you need to start in a more relaxed setting, try going to one of the casual meet-ups that so often run alongside shows one evening. Or make it your mission to speak to one person before each session and see what you can learn. Video conferences has compounded the challenge of speaking up and meeting new people - why not ask about post-webinar socials?
Before you arrive at any conference take the time to think about your networking objectives whilst you are there, what are you aiming to achieve through your new contacts? Are you looking to build connections to ready yourself for an upcoming career move? Do you want to connect with new vendors? Or do you simply want to expand your network of peers to give you further support in your work?
Whatever your purpose, having it in the back of your mind will give you a much clearer idea when it comes to choosing who you want to connect with, and how you are going to do it. Consider how you want to present yourself to fellow delegates in line with these aims, how you can clearly and succinctly describe your role and your company, and then have some questions on file to continue the conversation with should they be needed. “What are you hoping to get out of this event?” can be a great starter.
Many conferences will publish a list of attendees in advance, if yours does be sure to make use of it. Look through the list beforehand to see who you want to focus on connecting with, then you can keep an eye out for them when the time comes. Use this time to do your homework and research your future contact; got a sport or past company in common?
That’s a great starting point for discussions. You can also look up the contact on LinkedIn to see if you have any shared connections who could put you in touch before the conference starts. Having that extra referral can go a long way when somebody is being bombarded with contact requests.
So now you know where to go, why you’re doing it and who to approach. But how on earth do you begin aconversation? Start simple. Carolyn Doi recommends:
“When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment.”
Remember why you’re there at conference, you both have this great passion in common and that in itself is a fantastically strong conversation builder. This is where your preset objective comes into play. Use this passion to really engage with the person you’re talking to, once you’ve got past the first question you should be able to relax a bit and get to the nitty gritty. It is these in depth conversations that really make you memorable.
Follow up! It’s all too easy to walk away from conference with your address book full of your new connections and then to never contact them again. You might as well have never met with them in the first place. Avoid this by sending some form of follow up message in the week after conference.
Technology provides us with a vast range of options to do so. You can connect with them via LinkedIn (always with a personal message remind them where you met and, perhaps, what you discussed). Or you could send them an email. If you feel well enough acquainted to do so, you could also call them up and even suggest a subsequent meeting if it seems appropriate. Again, try and fit your follow up method in with your pre-conference objective.
Whatever you do, don’t take things too personally. If somebody doesn’t engage with you, chances are it’s nothing to do with your attempt to build a connection. They may simply be preoccupied, not looking to make any new contacts or just too nervous. Pick yourself up and move on to someone else. You’ll soon be networking like an info pro.