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6 Ways to ‘Network Like an Expert’ at Conventions and Tradeshows

Trade Shows, Conventions, Business Networking Skills...

The first six months of every year represent the unofficial “tradeshow season” for career professionals and managers around the world.  Whether you will be attending conventions for networking, or tradeshows to expand your brand recognition (and connect with B2B or B2C buyers), it is an exciting opportunity to travel and broaden opportunities for both your employer, and yourself.

  1. Finding Conversations

It is easy for seasoned tradeshow participants and exhibitors to “pick out” who is new to experiencing large business events, because they tend to hang back a little, and avoid engaging in conversations, or introducing themselves to people they do not know.

Becoming comfortable with introducing yourself, your employer (or business) and sharing your insights about the industry is a crucial skill that all professionals need to develop, whether they are satisfied with their current employer, or potentially seeking new career opportunities.  Who you know, will benefit your career, and it starts with a conversation.

  1. Introducing Self and Employer

Business cards are a valuable tool for connecting with other professionals and businesses at a tradeshow or convention.  The time to offer your business card is at the end of a conversation with a prospect or peer, and it is a nod to “keeping in touch” with someone who has offered a unique insight into the industry.   It terms of business etiquette, extending your business card is considered as an invitation to “stay in touch” for mutually beneficial reasons.

Remember to introduce yourself, your employer and share some positive reflections on the convention or tradeshow, as a meaningful industry event.  When the conversation is over, and the individual has parted ways, take a moment to add them to your smartphone contacts, or utilize a contact app to make notes (we’ve provided a link list of apps that can help below).   Pick 1-2 distinct aspects or comments about how your business opportunities may align from the conversation, then make note of them for follow-up later.

  1. Talking with Competitors

Should you feel awkward or uneasy about approaching booths or exhibits that are run by competitors?  Not if you can do it confidently, and respectfully and leave a good impression.   The truth is that any employee (regardless of role) should be curious about competitors, and eager to learn from other industry professionals.

When approaching a competitor’s booth, it is better to do so alone, rather than will a large and intimidating group of your colleagues (it can seem inappropriate to descend on a competitor and can be misconstrued as threatening or bullying).   Introduce yourself and your business, and find something complimentary to say about your competitor.  You share common ground by being experts in the same industry, and can always learn from each other.

  1. Connecting on Social Media

Tradeshows and conventions frequently provide continuing education opportunities, through keynote speakers and presentations.  Find out what hashtag the event is using, and participate on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  Twitter is a channel used for commentary during business presentations; find the professionals tweeting about the event, engage and follow them, to grow your professional network.

  1. Social Events

If you are working an employer booth and responsible for being a brand advocate during a tradeshow, you are in for some long, tiring days on your feet.   It can be tempting to head back to the hotel to refresh and have an early evening, particularly for 3-4 day events, but by doing so, you may be missing out on some valuable networking opportunities.

Social events are part of every convention, and they can be sponsored by brands that want to connect with professionals within the niche sector.  These events are not only fun, but present a more relaxed and social atmosphere where professionals can connect, and they shouldn’t be missed (even if your feet are more than a little sore).

  1. Post Convention Follow-Up

If you have done a great job representing your organization and yourself as a professional at a tradeshow or convention, you have probably returned home with some literature and brochures, some free swag, and a pile of business cards.  What you do next will help you capitalize on your networking efforts during the event.

Enter business card information, including name, title, company, phone number and email address into a spreadsheet, or create a specific industry related contact list for new members of your business network.    There are many mobile apps that can make this process easier and less time consuming.  If you use Microsoft Outlook for email, you can create group new contacts into a separate distribution list and categorize it by the date and/or name of the event you attended.

Wait at least three to four business days before reaching out to new connections made at a business event.  An email can be sent to each contact (personalized with their first name so that they do not feel they are being broadcasted to on masse).