“Networking is not collecting contacts, Networking is about planting relations” – Mia Sha.at
You might be thinking that networking on a local level is hard, scary, or impersonal, and the thought of national networking is entirely out of the question. While networking at a national conference can be intimidating, I am here to encourage you and give you some concrete conversation starters to say at a national conference that you may not be able to use at a local event.
Networking with new people is one of my favorite things to do and even more so at a national conference. Why say something so bold? You may be thinking, who loves to meet new people you may not see in person again? Know this; I do not expect to connect with or gain business from all the people I meet. I genuinely just want to get to know each other personally.
Think about this – You are sitting at a round table discussion or maybe sitting in on a keynote. The are plenty of others you do not recognize and happen to sit next to someone from Boston or San Francisco, and because of nerves, you prevent yourself from actually engaging in real conversation. Or you may be the opposite, maybe you tend to sit next to someone you already know to avoid that awkward conversation with someone new. Comfort wins almost every time. But what has comfort ever gotten you? As business owners, we must always be pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. John Maxwell, one of my favorite thought leaders, says, “If we are growing, we are always going to be outside our comfort zone”.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you do sit next to that unfamiliar face at the round table discussion and asked the usual questions –
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
And my favorite, “Oh, tell me more about that.”
What if you didn’t ask any of these questions? Personally, I’d encourage you not to. They’re already wearing a name tag, so glace at that first, then ask more questions that require more than a one or two-word response. Like, “Where are you from? What is the best weekend to visit your city?”. This question will tell you so much about them and give you so many nuggets of they’re favorite things to do to expand on later in this conversation. Follow up with one thing that resonated with you, “___ is one of my favorite things to do, so I’ll have to add (city) to my travel list! What are some of your favorite places to go in (city)?” I can guarantee that no one else is asking those questions. Therefore the conversation will stand out and eventually lead to what they do and why they do what they do professionally. Asking this type of question helps you know them so much better and allows the conversation to flow naturally. If you do not ask out of the ordinary questions, you will blend in with everyone else.
After the initial conversation, I challenge you to find them again during the conference to meet them for happy hour drinks in your downtime. You could even plan to sit next to them again at another meeting at the conference. I firmly believe that if you put in the effort to get to know someone intentionally, not only in networking but also in life, your cup will be filled, and good things happen.
If you see that person again next year at the same conference, you can pick back up and remember your conversation last year. To do this authentically, you’ll want to follow them on social media and engage with them through more means than just online. Celebrate their wins, congratulate them and cheer them on from where you live and work. Make a point when you meet someone for the first time, not only knowing their business name, what they do, and their name, but also getting to know them personally, listening to what they do outside of work. We all know that the creative/event industry becomes a way of life, and it pours into more than just our 9 am-5 pm working hours. You may have just found your person or a great acquaintance to encourage in this industry.
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