If there's one thing the work world loves, it's conferences. But just because you're not attending the Annual Conference of the National Association of Corporations 2015 doesn't mean you should totally sit out the whole conference scene.
Whether it's an industry-specific conference or something like edX or SXSW, conferences are genius places to meet new people, share ideas, and make invaluable contacts. By reaching out to others in your industry (or an industry that you really, really want to be a part of).
Don't think there's a conference that matches your interests? There's literally a conference for everything. LEGO conference? Yup. Celebrity Impersonators Convention? Uh-huh. A conference for people who love the animals in cartoons to the point of making costumes and dressing up as them? That's an. Actual. Thing.
Honestly, every other advice column will probably suggest you hand out business cards, but you know what that means? Everyone will be handing out business cards. Instead, try these awesome tips and sign up for a conference you're passionate about.
Step One: Do Some Online Stalking
Finally put your online stalking skills to good use. Stop looking at photos of your ex on Instagram (we're not judging), and instead, start checking out hashtags for the upcoming conference. Most conferences have some type of branded hashtag to make it easier for attendees to connect, so use your Twitter and Instagram to do some reconnaissance and find out who's going to be there. You can then shoot off a quick "Hey, let's meet up!" DM or use the hashtag yourself to announce that you're going.
When at the conference, don't forget to tweet your thoughts or post (flattering) pics of your favorite presenters. You can easily connect with other people without handing out your card a thousand times.
Step Two: Take Notes and Blog About it
Not everyone takes great conference notes, so why not take on that responsibility? Jot down thoughts (or sketchnotes) for each speaker and then blog about the experience. You can then blast your blog out via social media, which a super-friendly message like "Hey, all #CurryLoverCon attendees! Check out my blog for presenter summaries, plus the presenter I thought was the coolest." Or something along those lines. You'll not only drive traffic to your blog, but you'll garner connections from people who are super interested and could act as a connection into your dream industry.
Step Three: Hang Out Around the Food
Definitely spend a lot of your conference time attending talks and presentations, but if you really want to connect? Try the snack bar, coffee lounge, or lunch room. It's really hard to talk to new people when, you know, someone is giving a presentation. But the break room is usually when attendees loosen up and really start talking.
Introduce yourself and ask something other than "What do you do?" Try "Who was your favorite speaker?" or "What did you think of that infographic?" to get the ball rolling.
Step Four: Organize an Event
Conferences are great, but know what's even better? Post-conference events and get-togethers. Because that's where you really make lasting connections with people like you.
So, organize your own and throw the invite link up on the conference's Facebook page. It could be a mid-conference lunch with an RSVP so you can get enough seats, or even just a group outing to grab coffee nearby.
By making yourself the organizer, you have the best chance to network with new people and actually lead the conversation.
Step Five: When All Else Fails, Bring a Wingman. Or Wingwoman.
Look: We're not all networking powerhouses. But even if you're a little introverted, you can get over conference connection nerves by bringing along a friend. While you definitely shouldn't spend all of your time talking in a corner, having someone by your side can help you feel a little more comfortable with reaching out and talking to others.
Bring a friend who's interested in the presentation topics and who is outgoing enough to start a conversation. That way, you can join in with your brilliant ideas and meet a ton of new people.
Conferences are a perfect way to get your foot into an industry you love but you have to make them count. Think beyond handing out business cards like everyone else and you'll be able to make a serious impression.
By Jae — Beard Shaper
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