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There are never-ending opportunities to network online through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – and the list goes on. However, we all know some of the best networking comes when you meet someone face-to-face, shake hands and just talk! When you go to a conference or trade show, how much time do you put in to advance preparation for what I call ‘intentional networking’. This isn’t the same as randomly meeting people while you’re wandering the trade show floor (although that can have value too), it’s about creating a plan in advance, clearly defining your networking objectives and then working the plan.

Here are five ‘intentional networking’ tips for your next conference, trade show or networking event:

  • Master your pitch. I work a lot with accountants and many times when I meet an accountant, they will introduce themselves in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown, and I have an accounting firm”. Exciting, hey? Does that type of introduction make you want to do business with Joe? What if Joe introduced himself in the following way: “I’m Joe Brown and I help small businesses increase profitability and grow their revenue, while at the same time developing a long term strategic plan for success”. All of a sudden, you become interested. In fact, on the rare occasion when I’ve heard someone introduce themselves in this way, the response from the business owner they are introducing themselves to is “Wow – that sounds exactly like what I need”. Before you tackle your next networking event, make sure you have your elevator pitch mastered so when you introduce yourself, you clearly articulate how you’re different from your competitors, which will cause people to take notice and say “Now that’s someone I want to do business with!”.
  • Plan who you want to meet. Attendee lists are often available in advance of conferences or networking events – take time to study it and identify who you are going to be looking for when you arrive. Nowadays it’s easy to find people’s photos on LinkedIn so you recognize them when you see them, which also helps. Once you identify who you want to connect with, do your research. Take notes on their career history, read through their company website and become familiar with their      objectives. I’m always impressed when I meet someone and it is clear based on the comments they make that they have done their homework, so make sure you do yours.
  • Schedule in advance. Now that you’ve determined who you want to meet, you will likely see there are some senior level individuals or company executives on your list. Odds are these folks have a fairly packed schedule at most events they attend. Because of this, for the key individuals you want to connect with it’s recommended that you reach out in advance, let them know what you’d like to meet about and suggest two or three potential meeting dates and times, as well as a location. This will kick off the conversation and get you on their calendar which guarantees you’ll get some of their time at the conference. ‘Playing it by ear’ may cause you to miss a big opportunity to connect with someone who could change your business!
  • Maximize your time… and pace yourself! Leading up to the event, it’s ideal if you can plan well in advance so you’re not rushing around at the last minute finishing work projects or organizing things at home, which can leave you feeling burned out before the event even starts. Plan to pack early and leave some breathing room in your schedule for the days leading up to the event so when you arrive, you’re feeling refreshed and energized, ready to make the most of your time (and the investment you’ve made in attending!).  When you arrive, pace yourself. If your event is three or four days, don’t get caught burning the candle at both ends on day one and then find yourself feeling too tired to maximize the rest of the conference or event.
  • Break out of your comfort zone. When you attend conferences or events, especially when they only happen once a year, you likely have a list of colleagues or friends you haven’t seen in a while that you want to catch up with. Make you balance the “catching up” with breaking out of your comfort zone and meeting new people, which often leads to new insights and perspectives you can take back to your business. Also remember, there are many new attendees at every event regardless of size, so take a few moments to introduce yourself to someone you see standing alone. When I attend conferences I intentionally look for individuals who are standing alone and most of the time, those introductions and conversations turn out to be extremely valuable.

At your next conference or event, make a plan for intentional networking and you’ll be amazed at the doors that open and the value you’ll receive!