I was at a large conference recently, and a younger quiet changemaker asked me how I networked – he found the prospect really overwhelming, especially at such an event.
I reflected on how I approached it, and here is what I uncovered.
- I know I’m not going to be able to meet everyone, and accept it. At this large gathering in particular, I would say I met 15 people well enough to have easy name recall and hope to stay in touch with–6 of them I will actively remain in contact with.
- I generally try in advance to determine who I want to connect if the opportunity arises.
- As I meet people over time–in breakout sessions, at meals, or other smaller groups–I quickly categorize people as:
- Group 1: I want to know you better, or
- Group 2: I don’t need to know you better.
- Why people fit in one category or another depends on the circumstances. Friendly? Smart? Shared interests? Work opportunity? etc. For me it’s a gut feeling, not one I consciously think about each time I meet someone. It’s automatic.
- As the conference goes on, as I see members of group #1 again, I actively reengage. “How has the day been?” “Did you find _______ that you were looking for?” “Do you think it’s worthwhile to _________?”
- As I see members of group #2, I smile and say hi, but don’t actively reengage, so as to focus my time and my energy on Group 1.
- In order to build solid relationships, all of this means identifying as many of Group #1 as possible early at the conference so that relationships can be built over time. I take as many opportunities as possible to connect with people in smaller, breakout groups. Near the end of the event I try to solidify the relationship by at least making sure I say goodbye.
- If opportunities exist, I try to speak publicly/facilitate a workshop, etc. so that people likewise can find me if we might have a reason to connect.
How do you approach networking at conferences?