How to Work a Conference: Tips from a Networking Pro

Share By Giovanna Fabiano

A conference can be a great place to strike up a new business relationship, but it can also be stressful to walk into a room full of strangers and make meaningful connections.

That’s why it’s important to understand some key principals of networking before showing up for an event armed only with business cards, a firm handshake and a smile.

Dr. Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, among the world’s largest business networking organizations, shared some advice with Real Business on the “networking disconnect,” and how to fix it.

1. Be a farmer, not a hunter.  

First off, understand that your goal at a conference is to make connections and build relationships, not close a deal upon meeting a potential client or business partner.

“If you’re doing it right, networking is more about farming than it is about hunting,” Misner said.

Misner once spoke before 900 people at a conference aimed at entrepreneurs and posed the following question to the audience: “Who is here hoping to sell something today?”

All 900 hands shot up, he said. When he asked, “Who is here to buy something?” no one raised their hand.

That is what he refers to as the “disconnect.”

“People show up wanting to sell something, whether it’s a product or an idea and that’s why networking feels so mercenary,” Misner said.

2. Listen and ask questions.   

“A good networker has two ears and one mouth and should use them both proportionally: ask questions and elaborate, rather than, ‘Hi, my name is Ivan and we should do business.’”

Introduce yourself, make eye contact and pay close attention to what the other person is saying to find out if there is any common ground. Don’t rush, and don’t expect every conversation to be a lucrative one. Building connections takes time and effort.

3. Pay attention to how people are standing.

Before walking into a room, pay close attention to how people are standing together in groups, Misner said. If two people are standing together facing each other in close conversation, it can be very difficult to break in and introduce yourself. Same goes for the “triangle,” a closed group of three people having a conversation.

Misner’s advice is to look for those “open 2′s and open U’s,” or groups of two or three people standing in an open formation, because it’s easier to slide in and start talking.

Open-Closed Groups Where Do I Start[1]

4. Employ the “VCP” process.

VCP, which stands for Visibility, Credibility and Profitability, is the foundation of Misner’s philosophy on networking, and something he examines in his book, “Networking Like a Pro.”

In order to properly network, you have to be visible (people know you and have done business with you) and credible (people can vouch for you and are willing to refer you) before you can be profitable.

“What tends to happen is people try to jump over visibility and credibility and go straight to profitability, but you can’t be successful that way because people don’t know you,” Misner said.

“Conferences are a way of creating visibility and finding connections so that you can develop credibility. That’s the farming part versus the hunting part.”

Some other quick tips for the day of the conference:

 

  • Don’t try to connect with people on LinkedIn until the end of the first day or the end of the conference. Getting an alert a few minutes after an interaction can be a turn-off and make you seem too aggressive.
  • Bring business cards. Even in the world of online profiles, people still rely on business cards at conferences and networking events. Make sure to collect as many as you give out, but be strategic about both.
  • Check your email once an hour. Don’t waste your time on your phone or laptop. You risk coming across as rude and you won’t be getting the most out of the event.
  • Don’t try to get to see every speaker. Yes, these conferences can be pricey and you want to make the most of them, but you’ll risk suffering from burnout if you attend every event. Read up on the speakers beforehand, figure out which ones you’d benefit from the most, and map out a plan.
  • Bring breath mints. This one may seem like a joke, but this is the most close-talking you’ll do all year. You don’t want a potential business partner to remember you as the guy with the awful onion breath.

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comments (7)

  1. Jake Stewart

    Good Info

    Reply
  2. Gina Davis

    Lol. Thanks for the reminder about breath mints.

    I’ve always found it intimating to step into an actively networking room. One of the things I always try to do is be one of the first guest to arrive. I find it easier to start the conversation, rather than finding some place to fit in.

    Reply
  3. Merle West

    I love the confirmation that making connections is as important in networking as I believe it is in every aspect of life – professional and personal. People need to know they are heard and respected before they can make an informed decision about who they want to work with. Great visibility and credibility ultimately (not necessarily quickly) lead to profitability. Now I’m off to read “Network Like a Pro”. Thanks for this.

    Reply
  4. Hal von Hagn

    Before walking up and shaking someone’s hand – put your hand in your pocket for a few seconds then rub the palm on your pant leg. This way you have a warm and dry hand to shake with. Grab firmly – lock thumbs – don’t overpower your grip. Nothing worse than shaking a cold damp limp hand – and make sure you look directly into their eyes when you introduce yourself.

    Reply

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