When you’re an entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time at networking events, conferences and conventions. When you’re a successful entrepreneur, you even get asked to speak at them from time to time. One thing I’ve noticed during all of my time at conferences is that there are some people who really get how they work and some who really don’t. The ones who don’t are the ones who are easy to spot. They’re the ones hanging back, alone–the ones who never really seem to connect with anybody, preferring to slump in the back during the talks, who prefer staring at their phones, avoiding eye contact. They’re the ones who insist that these events are lame and a waste of time.
I always feel bad for these people when I see them. Of course they think the events are lame and/or a waste of time! The point of networking events, conferences and conventions is to make connections–personal ones, professional ones. If you hang back and don’t engage, you aren’t going to get much out of the event…and you probably won’t go very far as an entrepreneur either.
If you’re tired of forking over the cash for events and always feel like you spent a week stuck in the most boring class in school, here are some tips that you can use to make your next event a lot more fun and maybe even more profitable for you (in the long run, anyway).
Bring a Buddy
Big social events like these can be difficult if you are an introvert. You’ll have a much easier time bringing someone with you. Bring a friend or a colleague with whom you feel very comfortable. This way, at the very least, you’ll have someone to talk to and a companion for walking the showroom floor. If you can find someone who has an extroverted personality, all the better. That person can strike up conversations with others and then bring you into them. If nothing else, having a buddy with you will keep you from spending the entire event checking Twitter and missing all of the good stuff.
Use the App
Most event organizers and convention runners have made the shift from printed programs to event apps. This–if the event venue has decent wifi–is a godsend for the wayward event attendee. There is so much great stuff in these apps (which is, ostensibly, why event organizers use them). They allow attendees to leave feedback about speakers and vendors. The mobile event app from DoubleDutch even works as on site social network, allowing you to network with other attendees. This is particularly helpful if you’re more comfortable with digital communication than face-to-face conversations.
If you really aren’t in the mood for socializing (we all have days like that), focus on the educational track of your event. Most networking events have at least one speaker. Conferences and conventions usually have a bunch of different panels and talks you can focus on. What’s important though, is that you not just pay attention during these talks and panels but that you turn them into something constructive. Make a point of taking notes during each session. Then, when you get home do two things:
Write up an event recap or review and publish it somewhere online (make sure to tag the speakers and the event in that post).
Send an email to one of the panelists or speakers and ask them at least two follow up questions.
This way you’ll still be networking, you’ll just be networking from within your comfort zone. Plus, you could wind up striking up a friendship and viola! You have a buddy for the next event!
Remember: a lot of the attendees there are just as nervous as you are. If nothing else, try to find someone who is doing what you usually do–hanging back, pretending to read their phone, etc.–and say “I’m really uncomfortable at these things. How about you?” You’ll be surprised at how far that can take you!