Industry conferences usually start with a crowded ballroom brimming with colleagues dressed in their finest business casual togs, drinks in hand, plastic name badges swinging in the air conditioned breeze and a cacophony of shoptalk rising to the rafters.
Welcome to the big event, the tradeshow or the annual conference where it seems like everyone is swapping cards, shaking hands and has so much to talk about already! For extroverts and introverts alike, though, meeting new people at conferences can be intimidating. So, how do you network with a room packed with peers when you don’t know a single soul?
Well, you may be standing by yourself – but you’re certainly not alone. Here are some of the best ways to break the ice:
Get pre-funky. If you thought “pre-funks” were for college or tailgate parties, think again. Short for “pre-function,” these social activities – usually in bars or restaurants – serve as a great opportunity to break the ice in a more relaxed atmosphere. Chatting up colleagues in an informal setting is a great way to shake out any nerves before filing into a serious meeting or conference. Alcohol isn’t necessary, but a good sense of humor is always appreciated! And sometimes, chicken wings help.
Comment on commonalities online. Start a conversation with your professional colleagues online in the days and weeks before the conference. Most events have Twitter hashtags, LinkedIn community groups or Facebook fan pages that encourage interaction. Try posting questions you have to event organizers, or comments you have on sessions – then follow up with those who chime in and offer to talk it over in person.
“You like Twilight, too?” Walking around the conference room, you can identify who likes Harry Potter, who loves processing spreadsheets, and who adores aquatic sports with Highlight, a smartphone app that tracks your interests and matches them against the people around you. The app provides the name, photos and interests of others in the room, which can give you a good starting point for conversation.
“Hey, you guys going to that tech trends session later?” Even without the aid of technology, you can still make an impression at a networking event with a rather old-fashioned method: walking up, saying hi and handing over your business card. While “cold calling” is usually the most nerve-racking method, it’s a nice gesture to seek out others in the same solo boat. Make friends with the people who click with you and stick with them! Later, you can both approach other complete strangers as a dynamic duo.
Want to get connected online before Fusion? Find other attendees on Concur’s event pages at LinkedIn, Facebook or search the Concur Fusion Twitter hashtag #CF2012.