In order to do well in any industry, you need to know and have the support of the right people. No matter how independently you work, people are the key to success in every endeavor. Although chance encounters do occur, you don’t always meet the right people at the right time.
However, you can increase these chances by setting up a booth at a conference specific to your niche. With different influencers in your industry congregated in the same area as you, the odds will be more in your favor for developing these mutually beneficial relationships.
Being at the right place doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen, though. You’ll need the networking and conversational skills to back you up when you meet a potential customer or partner at a conference too (even if you’re a bit more on the introverted side). Here’s what you need to know to up your conference networking game.
Don’t Skimp on Booth Design
A lot can be said about a person by the way they design their booth. When you have a booth at a conference, how your setup looks is just as important as your own wardrobe. No one will want to start a conversation with you if you look like you put no effort in your appearance.
The same is true for your booth. If you put little work into the aesthetics of your booth design, you won’t attract many people — especially if it looks like it was made the night before or is bland in style. In order to catch people’s attention, you’ll need booth banners and a striking design to flag people down.
Remember, your banner and booth materials are an extension of your brand. If anything is incongruent with your brand image, people will be confused about who you are and what you’re doing at the conference. So double check the colors and and fonts you use match the same ones as your business and other marketing materials; you always want to be more proactive than reactive.
Keep things simple and easy to read as well by designing your booth in a way that showcases what your business is about. Don’t let your message get lost in a cluttered design. Also have your audience in mind when creating your booth and banner.
Use graphics and language that appeal to your target audience so that your setup is the one they’re attracted to the most. Look into applied psychology and color theory, too, and see which shades and hues communicate the message you want your company to evoke while still being pleasing to the eye.
Have size in mind as well and make sure the promotional materials you use are large enough to catch a crowd’s attention while still conforming to the size restrictions of your booth area. Placing your booth in a good light doesn’t hurt either by utilizing lighting equipment that accentuates your display and brings attention to areas you want people to see most.
Overall Best Conference Practices
Once you’re at a conference, it won’t do hoping for the best that the right people will come to your booth. You need to prepare and devise a plan to best utilize your time at the conference. By first seeing what the conference’s schedule is, prioritizing and managing your time for the workshops and panels you want to attend will be that much easier.
Also see which topics will be discussed and which speakers were invited so you can do further research on the two to increase your chances of forming a connection with the influencers speaking and attending. You may not be able to do everything you want at the conference, so determine which events are a priority and which can be missed if you don’t have the time.
Have someone man your booth at all times as well so that your station is not left unattended while you visit various events. It helps to familiarize yourself with the location of the conference and where each activity will occur too. Knowing how long it will take to walk to certain panels and workshops will help you determine which ones you can get to in time, and having a familiar idea of where the conference is and where you can park will ensure you’ll arrive on time.
Don’t forget to schedule in break times for rest and food yourself, either. You won’t be impressing anyone if you’re exhausted or your stomach’s growling through a whole conversation. Speaking of conversations, leave some time for exchanges with other attendees as well since the whole point of you being there is to network.
If you have questions about what you should wear, look at past conference pictures on their website to get a feel for what the dress code is. You’ll want to be comfortable since you’ll be on your feet for a good portion of the day. Check the weather as well so you can plan your outerwear accordingly. Layering up is another good idea since different rooms can be set at different temperatures.
Lastly, consider other items you will need to bring with you to the conference such as a laptop, chargers, pen and paper, and business cards.
Talk the Talk
Once you have a plan of attack, you need to brush up on your networking skills. As you can see, networking is one of the top ways agencies drum up new business.
That being said, there are a lot of people vying for the same relationships you want to cultivate, so it’s up to you to distinguish yourself from the rest. Do this by being more eager to help the other person rather than having them assist you. Showing a genuine interest in the other person will make your more noticeable than a person who only asks for what they want.
Networking isn’t a one-sided relationship. It takes the efforts of two people trying to connect with one another. So be a good listener and ask them questions about themselves. Honesty is truly the best policy when it comes to networking, so speak the truth about yourself to build a solid foundation of trust between you and your contact.
Be consistent with who you are as a person both professionally and personally as well. People have a knack for discovering inconsistencies when talking with a person. Getting caught in an untruth can seriously damage a budding connection.
Also remember to continue the conversion long after the first encounter by consistently following up with them. A true networking relationship only grows and prospers if you put in the work to stay in contact with them.
Take Advantage of Hiring Opportunities
Although you may be going to a conference to form beneficial business connections, don’t forget to network with people who want to form connections with you as well. Especially when you’re hiring your first employees, it’s important to start your hiring process right by recruiting the best and brightest first instead of ones who will just do for now.
The kind of people you hire in the beginning will ultimately encourage or halt the progress of your company altogether. Hiring has a domino effect in that the employees you hire will recommend and attract other employees like them to your company, so it’s best to give yourself a good headstart and hire the most qualified candidates you can find.
Individuals attending conferences will most likely have the qualities you want in an employee, so keep your eyes open for potential hires at these events. It’s good to think in the long-term when considering a prospective employee as well since your business will have to deal with the consequences — negative or positive — of each hire you take on.
You will have to be the judge whether or not the skill sets a person possesses will benefit you just now or many years down the road. It’s also important that you like the person you’re thinking about offering a position to. Company culture is a key part to business success.
If people are miserable with the coworkers they have to collaborate with, this will only lead to setbacks for your company. After all, why would you want to hire someone you don’t like? Employees also work their best and come up with their most innovative ideas if their work environment makes them feel comfortable and encourages research and development that way of thinking. According to HR Gazette, “48% of human resources and recruiters and managers believe that technology helps them make better decisions.”
Even with the best intentions, many startups and companies fail — but that doesn’t mean failure has to happen to you too. Attending and setting up a booth at a conference is a great way to find lasting and beneficial connections.
However, you can’t just walk in and expect great results to happen. By investing in your booth design, putting together a conference game plan, and brushing up in your networking skills, you will form relationships that will help you and your company progress far into the future.