Networking: You either hate it or you love it, right? As the founder and CEO of Hey! VINA, the social discovery app for women, it should be no surprise that I’ve found myself at various conferences over the years. And while I know how vital networking at women’s conferences is—after all, nothing spells magic like a room of badass women in it—I think we all can agree that making the connections we so desperately seek isn’t as easy as we might think.
Besides the simple fact that trying to meet and establish a lasting impression with other conference attendees or speakers (at times, over 500 or 1,000+ members) can feel completely intimidating, there’s no rulebook or surefire way to nail the networking game.
As an upcoming speaker at BlogHer Health in January (see you there!), I’ve thought a lot about how to be an effective networker, and I’m using my own experiences to share some advice.
Here are my top five tips to be a pro-networker:
Get comfortable. But not too comfortable.
We’ve all heard the advice, “Step out of your comfort zone” when it comes to networking tips. I get it, but I also think doing that can be completely terrifying and counterintuitive, actually leaving you to be even more nervous. If you’re going to be selling yourself to complete strangers, you need some comfort, right? So my best advice is to find your level of comfort at a conference, and push it up by one notch. If the front row seems too intimidating, no worries—I feel you. Instead, try to sit in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th row—still close enough to the stage but a “safe” zone for you. Same goes if you are more comfortable with attending with a friend. No big deal, but don’t rely on her as a crutch the whole time. Instead, divide and conquer! Agree to work the room separately and meet three different people during your solo time. Then, you both can introduce each other when you meet up again. It’s a win-win.
Use your breaks strategically.
Some of my best networking connections at conferences happened when there’s a break between speakers. Everyone runs to the bathroom, or to take a call or grab a water, but I have found that’s the best time to introduce myself to other attendees and make conversation. Questions can be anything from, “Have you seen this speaker before?” or, ‘Is it your first time at this conference?” Have one to three questions prepared and use them!
And while you might be tempted to go back to your hotel room after a long day, resist that temptation and join the after-conference dinner or drinks. You’re there for just a few days, so it’s important that you maximize your time best to your advantage.
Make tech your secret weapon.
A few days or weeks before the conference starts, ask if there’s a conference app and be sure to download it! Familiarize yourself with the schedule, the panelists, and introduce yourself if there’s a space to do it. On top of that, be sure to carve out time to research the panelists or keynote speakers who are attending the conference (you also can ask for an attendee list if they have one as well).
Look everyone up on LinkedIn, starring people who are on your “must-meet” list, get your hands on everything they’ve written or been quoted in, and use this as your prep time. That way, when you meet them in person, you’re not playing catch-up. The key to networking is to come prepared. Want to connect with a certain panelist? When you introduce yourself, reference a specific article or piece you saw her in and explain why it left a lasting impression on you.
Hey! VINA is another great way to use tech to your networking advantage. If you’re looking to continue a conversation with a group of bloggers you meet, for instance, you can encourage them to join the Bloggers Community on Hey! VINA. Or if you want to keep a conversation going or organize drinks post-conference, you can create an open plan on Hey! VINA and arrange a meeting at the hotel bar (remember, these moments to socialize are important). There are so many great ways to keep the networking conversations going—right at your fingertips. Utilize the tools you have and make it happen.
Find common ground.
Did someone ask a question that you also were thinking about in your head? Did you find yourself nodding your head in agreement as a speaker was talking? Heck, does the woman sitting a few rows over from you have the same phone case as you? Say something about it! If your goal is to expand your network, you have to start somewhere—and these common ground topics are a perfect place to begin. Use it as an icebreaker for your next conversation
Wear something bold or different.
Wearing a bold blazer, funky big earrings, bright patterned pants, or some interesting and colorful shoes, will do some of the heavy networking lifting for you. First, it will help break the ice in starting new conversations. You know how awkward you feel starting a fresh conversation with an unknown stranger? They feel it too! When you wear something unique, it becomes an easy opening and a good invitation for others to strike up a conversation with you. Therefore alleviating yourself of some of that effort. “Hey! What’s the story of your amazing shoes?” is so much more personal than, “Hey! So, who are you, what do you do?” It makes both of us a lot more comfortable immediately. Secondly, it helps you get remembered. When networking at events, at a certain point everyone starts looking and sounding the same. There’s only so much our brains can manage when you’re also soaking up tons of great learnings, so your name and story are easily blurred together with the rest of the people and day… unless you stand out! It’s a psychology trick called the notion of peculiarity, but our brains naturally will remember things that don’t blend in. So while black on black on black may make sure you fit in (and your imposter syndrome may be creeping in and telling you that’s what you need to do!), when it comes to networking, you want to be the one that gets remembered!
The bottom line? You can be a great networking, it’s just a matter of you challenging yourself to make it happen—while looking for the right opportunities to do it. At your next women’s conference, try my tips and let me know how they worked out for you. Find me at @heyoliviajune!
Olivia June is the founder & CEO of Hey! VINA, the social discovery app for women. She’s obsessed with meeting new friends, connecting people, social psychology, and is passionate about empowering women around the world. She wants to help everyone live their best lives, and most importantly, have a lot of fun getting there!