One of the most powerful benefits of attending an industry conference like SouthWiRED is the opportunity for networking. At this conference, you’re surrounded by movers, shakers, thinkers, and dreamers who are all wonderfully interested in the same topics you are. You can find new friends, new business deals, new jobs, and new restaurant suggestions all in one place. But continually meeting and talking to new people can leave you feeling exhausted and defeated if you don’t do it right.
Even the most bubbly, extroverted networkers sometimes feel nervous about meeting and greeting new people. You’ve almost certainly felt this form of social anxiety before. You know it by the sweaty palms that plague your handshakes and the quivering tremor that infects your voice. You know it by that feeling of dread you have before you arrive and that feeling of relief you have once you leave.
But nerves aren’t all you have to worry about when you’re networking at a conference. Socializing for hours on end can wear you out, even if you’re having fun. But successful networking, especially at a busy conference, takes a lot of energy and attention. So how can you get the most out of conference networking without feeling frazzled?
It’s easier than you think. Use a handy acronym to gain RELIEF from stress and find success at SouthWiRED or your next conference networking event.
RELIEF stands for Research, Energize, Look, Introduce, Engage, and Follow-Up. In this post, we’ll talk about Research.
Research, Research, Then Research Some More
Knowledge is power. The good thing about attending a conference like SouthWiRED is that you can learn a lot of knowledge about the venue, topics, and attendees well in advance, and that empowers your networking prowess. Here are the things you need to research:
- Speakers and sponsors. As soon as you finalize your conference attendance, look up the speakers and sponsors that you most want to contact. Read their LinkedIn pages to learn about their work. Follow them on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their news. Read their blog posts and subscribe to their e-newsletters to keep up with the topics they care about. You might feel a bit like a cyber-stalker, but it’s all for a good cause: The more you know about them, the more confident you’ll feel when you talk to them in person.
- Fellow attendees. Don’t just focus on important speakers and celebrities. Follow the event hashtag on Twitter or look up fellow attendees on EventBrite to find other attendees like yourself that you may want to meet. If you have time, introduce yourself to them online, start a conversation about a topic you both care about, and schedule a time to meet them at the conference. Not only will you make a good friend and professional colleague this way, but you may also gain a networking wingman or wingwoman (more on the power of that in a later post).
- Hot topics. As you research your favorite speakers and attendees, keep a running tab of any questions or subjects that you especially want to ask them about. Read over this list every now and then and visualize yourself asking them confidently in a comfortable conversation. If you do this, you’ll avoid the anxiety that comes from trying to have a conversation with someone but not knowing what to say.
- Locations and venues. We know that locating and navigating the roads around Atlanta is often a daunting task. That’s why SouthWiRED is centrally located at Atlantic Station. Wherever your next conference may be, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable in that new place if you familiarize yourself with it first. Use Google Maps, Yelp, and Trip Advisor to explore the city and venue the conference will be held in. If you have the opportunity, visit it in advance. Learn the lay of the land (especially the locations of all the bathrooms) and you’ll know your way around like a seasoned pro. Better yet, you’ll be able to help others find their way too. Maybe you’ll be able to strike up a conversation and connection as you guide a new friend to the location of the next session. We know locating and navigating the roads around Atlanta is often a daunting task.
No matter how knowledgeable you feel, you’ll see your networking productivity improve exponentially with this kind of advance preparation.
After you’ve done all your homework, you’re ready for the next step: Energize. We’ll talk about how Energizing fits in with your conference networking strategy in a future post, so watch this space!
-Martha Jean Schindler