Making the Most of Opportunities to Network and Connect When Solo at an Event or Conference like BlogHer '13
As BlogHer '13 gets closer, I wanted to share two of my favorite tips on how best to approach attending an in-person networking event or conference when you have to go it alone or are used to doing most of your networking online.
Both of these tactics model a “pay it forward” style approach, and something I believe is the most effective way to attempt to connect with people that are still essentially strangers to you offline. Why? Because if you’re what I call a “reluctant networker,” focusing on helping others takes pressure off you and actually helps relieve nervousness too.
1) Find the event's host(s) or any of its sponsors and introduce yourself to them with a warm smile and firm (not bone-crushing, please) handshake, and then thank them for hosting and/or sponsoring the event or party. Remember, these people are hosting the event and they want everyone there to have a good experience -- just as you would if you were hosting a party or event. You can then ask about their connection to or role with the group/event and find out what their goals are for the conference overall. You might be surprised by what you learn, and maybe you'll discover a few ways you might help them.
If nothing comes to mind immediately, ask for a business card and make a note of their need or goals on the back of it. Let them know you'll be in touch if you come across whatever it is they need and to connect online. At that point, be prepared to offer what made you attend the event and your own goals for attending, and just wait and see what happens next. More often than not, they just might try to help you connect with other folks at the event or will soon follow up with you via Twitter, BlogHer, e-mail or phone.
2) Get in line for something, whether it's food, drink or the bathroom (seriously). Use that time to ask the person of your choice (in front or behind you) if it's their first time at the event or what the focus of their blog is, or if they're looking forward to any keynote speaker in particular. Or if it's someone you know slightly (because you met them at the Newbie Breakfast -- where I'll be speaking, btw), try one of my all-time favorite openers, which anyone can answer:
Find out what they're working on this year. For example, "Hi Shannon, good to see you. Sandy Jones-Kaminski from the Bella Domain Media blog (in case she looks like she doesn't remember you); we met at the San Francisco BlogHer conference last year. How are things going? (Let them answer.) So what are you working on these days? Anything exciting?"
Sometimes the answer is something fun, like planning a trip to Australia, or it might be a sponsorship related program and something you can assist them with by connecting them to a resource. The laws of reciprocity are soon likely to kick in and you’ll get an opportunity to share what it is that you’re working on right now (looking for sponsors, maybe?).
Look for the other solos
And, if there aren't any lines at the event, just look around for another solo person (you'll spot lots of them) and practice either of the techniques mentioned above. I've met some of my very best collaborators using tactics like these, and they now make it a practice to do these things whenever they attend any type of event solo.
Hope to see some of you giving these tips a try at this year's conference in Chicago, and if this is your first time to a major BlogHer conference, please join me for the Newbie Breakfast on Friday, July 26th at 7:30 am over at McCormick Place. NOTE: Dresdan added this too: http://www.blogher.com/introducing-blogher-conference-mentors
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