Industry conferences are a great way to meet people, but they’re also full of “forced networking” where you wander around aimlessly, talking to random people at the bar. For the experienced salesperson or founder, these canned events can feel very introductory, not to mention repetitive, inauthentic, and worst of all, overly corporate.

I’m over doing things the old way. Instead, I’m going to focus on community, relationships, and being present. Here are 10 ways to find human connection and get the most out of attending your next conference. 

What do you want from this event?

Networking seems easy for people who can talk about themselves all day. For others, it’s scary to talk about themselves at all. To compensate, we focus too much on getting business cards, building lead lists, or selling our products in short conversations. The result? Lots of empty conversations.

Reframe your goals by focusing on the human experience of the conference. Share what you appreciate about your professional life and what you’re currently working on. Ask people if they experience some of the same challenges that you do, and how they’ve addressed them. Be vulnerable and break down the walls in the right places–while still being professional. 

Build a sense of community

We’re often disappointed after a conference or networking event because there’s no instant gratification. We’re only looking at our immediate results. Sometimes we narrow our sights too far and our attention is only on measurable details, like how many sales opportunities we generated.

Take a step back and realize that you have business leaders from all over the country, if not the globe, who are seeking guidance on how to create something great. Try sifting through all the corporate noise and focus on developing long term relationships. Build a sense of community with these people. 

Be present in your interactions

We always want to know what we can get out of a situation. This distracts us from being present in the moment and having the right mindset. Before trying to calculate how valuable the person you’re talking to is to the future of your business, just listen. Don’t think about where you need to be next or what you need to follow up on. People pick up on this and they’ll think that you’re not really that interested in talking to them. 

10 ways to get the most out of conferences and networking events

1. Before the conference, reflect on WHY you do the work you do 

We come to meetings prepared with numbers about market share, stock prices, value propositions, and customer lists. But not everything needs to be a sales pitch. Reflect on your journey and be vulnerable with yourself. This’ll allow you to open up more with others and find deeper connections– and quite frankly, you’ll be more interesting. 

For me, I co-founded Delegate because I believe that there’s a better model for employing technology experts; one where companies have the resources they need to succeed and system admins have the ability to work on projects they care about the most. 

2. Come prepared with talking points for different personas

You’ll meet people from different industries, different departments, and different levels of leadership. The topics you’ll want to talk about with an engineer will be different from an investor or a founder. 

Ask yourself, how can I ensure that people feel comfortable and excited to have interesting discussions with me? Take time to work on your talking points beforehand so you always have a compelling conversation starter. 

3. If possible, get the attendee list ahead of time 

Some conferences don’t publish their attendees publicly, but if they do, it’s a great way to prepare ahead of time. Review and find potential customers, partners, and other leaders who might be able to help you on your journey. 

Look for founders and leaders that you admire. If you aren’t already following them on social media, connect today and send them a message saying that you’d like to meet up during the conference. 

4. Make a list of what you’re looking for 

If you don’t have a clear sense of what you need out of a conference, you’re relying on luck to send something meaningful your way. Instead, think through what you want to learn and who can fill in those knowledge gaps for you. Here are a few examples:

  • I want to meet someone who is an expert in AI 
  • I want to connect with someone who knows social media 
  • I want to meet someone in an industry that’s new to me 
  • I want to build relationships with VCs for future funding rounds

5. Deliver your sales pitch – but read the room first

Your reasons for networking will be different from other attendees’ reasons. Not everyone wants to hear your sales pitch, so read the room before you jump in. Of course you’re eager to tell your story and pitch your company, but you can also develop a genuine curiosity about others through listening and discovery. You sell/pitch enough day to day anyways. 

6. Ask people for advice about how to tackle your challenges 

You don’t need to pretend like you have everything completely under control. No one does. Think through some of the tricky issues you’re dealing with today. Maybe you’re having a hard time finding the right new hires for a project. Ask around and see if anyone has a new approach to hiring or knows a great candidate. 

Don’t be afraid to open up about your struggles. You’ll be surprised to find that your openness will create space for others to share their own concerns. This is how you make an authentic bond and find inspiration to push forward. 

7. Share what you learned from the sessions you attended

Most conferences have multiple sessions scheduled all at the same time. Offer other attendees a summary or a tip you picked up from a presenter. Help them walk away with more information. Ask people to return the favor for sessions you missed. Give them a chance to teach you something too. 

8. Set aside time for reflection to review who you met and what you learned 

Throughout the day, take breaks and spend 15 minutes or so writing down what your top takeaways were from the sessions you attended and the people you met. Don’t rush around all day. You won’t absorb the key details of your conversations.

For each person, get their business card or write down their name and what you spoke to them about. Not only will this help you be present, you’ll also remember a lot more from the conference later on. 

9. Have a follow up plan and reach out to the people you meet

You’ve collected 40 business cards. Now what? If you think there’s a sales or partnership opportunity, plan on sending an email thanking them for the time, recounting your conversation, and setting next steps. 

If you’re connecting with a leader you want to learn from, add them on LinkedIn or Twitter and engage with their content. If you meet someone who doesn’t have a clear value-add right now, add them on LinkedIn and send a brief note to say nice to meet you. 

10. Take good notes to share afterwards with your colleagues and on social media

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ll remember this for sure.” It’ll be too late when you can’t recall which session you got that information from. Take notes during each session and use your reflection time to write about your conversations. 

It may not seem important to write down that a potential customer just had a new baby, but attention to the human details can give you something meaningful to talk about when you connect later. 

Let’s meet up!

Delegate is a Gold Sponsor at SaaStr Annual 2020. Come visit our booth September 13th through 15th! I’m excited to hear about your journeys and to build meaningful human connections. In the meantime, subscribe to our blog for our latest content.