Networking is critical for building a great career, and there’s no better place to do it than a professional conference. A little preparation will help you get the most out of the experience. Try these tips from the pros:
• Start with a goal. Articulate two outcomes you hope to get out of the event, such as meeting three new people or getting one new job lead, advises Laura Katen of the Daily Muse. “Knowing ahead of time what you’re hoping to accomplish will help you stay focused—not aimlessly wandering around,” she says.
• Use social media to make connections in advance. Look up the speakers of the sessions you plan to attend, advises Trish McFarlane, HR Ringleader blog. Reach out on LinkedIn, and send them notes saying you look forward to their presentation.
Then go on Twitter and find people who are talking about the conference. Follow them and ask what they are looking forward to at the conference, what sessions they are attending, etc.
• Plan your sessions. Select a few sessions per day in advance, experts say. Then let the new friends and connections you meet help guide you to additional events. McFarlane suggests attending at least one session you think that you may never use at work. “I used to focus only on sessions that I saw as beneficial to what I was trying to do at work. Once I began branching out, I actually found that many of the issues and situations I learned about came in handy years later.”
• Pack your business cards. “You can never have enough of these, Jessica Miller Merrill of Blogging4Jobs.com said in an interview. “Keep them handy with your LinkedIn profile information and other personal identification. Use envelopes and quart size plastic baggies to help store and organize your new contacts. Keep them sorted in the baggies by follow-up priority and different industries if needed.”
• Follow-up effectively. Send emails to anyone you met that you’d like to stay in touch with when you return to the office. Personalize the emails, letting each person know you enjoyed meeting them and mentioning something that you talked about. McFarlane says she writes down ideas on the flight home, which she then incorporates into her job once she gets back home.
“Sometimes, something clicks and I have great results and sometimes it’s something that doesn’t stick. Either way, I’m approaching my work with a creative and innovative spirit and using knowledge gained at the conference,” she adds.
— Adapted from “The 10 Conference Commandments, HR Ringleader” and “9 Tips for Navigating Your First Networking Event,” the Daily Muse.
Do you have networking all wrong?
Pete Leibman, author of I Got My Dream Job and So Can You: 7 Steps to Creating Your Ideal Career After College, rounds up his top myths about networking. Among them: It’s annoying, it’s cheating and it’s only for extroverts. “Your success with networking depends on your strategy, not your personality. In fact, being shy can actually be a networking advantage,” he notes.
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