How to Network at Conferences: Top 16 Tips to Improve Business Networking

If you’re feeling nervous about going to an in-person conference or event, read these tips to help refresh your networking skills.

After a surge in conference cancellations due to the pandemic, in-person events are finally seeing a comeback. With 95% of people saying that being face-to-face is “a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term business relationships,” according to the Harvard Business Review, it’s clear why so many people are choosing to attend in-person conferences again. 

However, after networking online for so long, many people may be feeling a sense of social awkwardness when meeting new people. Navigating social situations is something that comes naturally for some, but for others, it’s not so easy. If you fall into the latter group, your communication (both verbal and nonverbal) skills may be a little rusty. (And that’s OK because let’s admit it—a lot has changed with hybrid and remote work!)

If you’re feeling nervous about going to an in-person conference or event, these 16 tips will help refresh your networking skills.

16 tips for networking effectively at conferences and events

1. Be confident in yourself and your skills.

Easier said than done, right? Wrong! If you lack confidence, you could be one of the 7 out of 10 people suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Remind yourself—you’re smart and capable. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be where you are in life. 

Confidence (but not overconfidence) will help you stand out and make a lasting, positive impression. Most people are at least a little nervous when they first walk into a large, in-person event. Don’t be afraid to go up to the person in the corner and introduce yourself because, chances are, they’re feeling a little nervous themselves. (And who knows, you never know who you may meet!) If you want to brush up on your public speaking skills, try improving presentation skills to get over any event jitters.

Always make sure you look the part when networking
Photo by Liza Summer

2. Look the part.

Messy buns and sweatpants were a work-from-home staple for many people. If you’re venturing out into the professional world again, it’s probably time to dig through your closet and find something you love that isn’t your robe and pajamas. (Remember that saying, if you look good, you feel good? It’s true!) Wearing an outfit that fits well and makes you feel good will only help you feel more confident at in-person gatherings.

3. Use your network to network.

If you’re at an event and you see someone you know, ask them to introduce you to people they know. Networking through others is a great way to establish strong connections because there is already some level of rapport. 

4. Have your elevator pitch ready.

One of the most common conversation starters is, “So, what do you do?” In a purely social setting, it’s usually fine to mumble through this, but at conferences, you need to have a perfected elevator pitch. Having a ready-to-use elevator pitch will not only remove any worry about how to respond, but it will also help you appear intelligent, professional, and confident.

5. Don’t dominate the conversation—ask questions instead.

No one likes it when someone else controls the entire conversation. Listen actively to what your new connection has to say, and ask follow-up questions. This sales tactic will lead to a more engaging conversation and leave a good impression.

6. Keep the conversation flowing

Not every conversation will have a natural flow, and that’s okay, but be prepared to push past a silence or two with a few icebreaker questions. Come prepared with a few questions that are related to the conference, industry, or that speak to you. 

7. Keep the conversation short and sweet.

Seldom do people go to a networking event and want to only talk to one person all night long. Be respectful of both your and the other person’s time and limit the conversation to 10 minutes or less. When done, share your business card so that you can follow up and continue the conversation at a later point.

Use digital business cards to track new connections

8. Share your digital business card.

Digital business cards are a new, powerful networking tool. They can be edited at any time, contain more information than a paper business card, and can be shared with anyone, anywhere. For networking, we recommend HiHello, which is the top digital business card app on the App Store and Google Play. (It’s also completely free but has digital business card subscription plans available for power networkers who want access to premium features.) When you share your digital card with someone, HiHello will even send you an email reminding you to follow up.

9. Follow up with your new connections.

Networking isn’t a one-and-done sort of deal—growing and maintaining your network takes time and effort. Make sure you follow up within one day of meeting someone so they remember who you are. Perhaps suggest the two of you grab a coffee or connect on LinkedIn—doing something like this will help establish and cultivate that new connection. 

10. End on a positive note.

The world has seen enough negativity over the past few years, so keep your conversations lighthearted. Ending on a positive note will make you appear more open to continuing the conversation outside of the event or conference. 

11. Be yourself. 

The most important part of networking is to be yourself. Staying true to yourself will show people you’re genuine and trustworthy—someone that they should have in their network. 

12. Go in with goals

Goals can be a great way to ensure you make the most of a conference and also push beyond your comfort zone. simple goals like introducing yourself to a certain number of people can help 

13. Don’t miss opportunities

In between sessions, there are often short breaks where it can be like an automatic reflex to pull up your phone and check emails or Slack. Instead, put the phone down and use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new. 

Use social media to make the most of networking before a conference
Photo by Magnus Mueller

14. Be active on social media

Often in the lead-up to a conference, there will be a flurry of activity around a conference on social media. Use this as a chance to participate in the conversation, get your name out there, and connect with people before you even set foot in the venue. 

15. Take notes

You’re likely going to meet a lot of new people and take in more information than you can remember. Come up with a note-taking strategy that can help you remember who you spoke to, what you talked about, and any other details you might want to mention when you follow up. 

Our favorite way to do this is with HiHello’s note feature on contacts. When you scan a paper business card, receive someone’s digital business card, or manually create a contact, you’ll have their contact information in your smart address book. Then you can create a note within their contact, so those details will always be easy to find. 

Create notes to keep track of important information

‍16. Always offer assistance 

Networking is about building relationships, and that doesn’t come from only asking for help. As you make new connections, be sure to offer to help them. 

Main photo by fauxels

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