Over the years, I have been asked how to make and utilize connections at conferences.

Recently Sandy Jones-Kaminski, Chief Connecting Officer at Bella Domain Media, and author of I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???: A Guide to Making the Most Out of Any Networking Event, sent me a copy of her book. I asked her to do a guest post on this subject.

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In order to help ensure you are ready to make the most of all the opportunities to connect at your next conference, here are some of my favorite and proven networking tips:

  1. Don’t take networking too seriously. It can and should be fun. Connect with the intention of helping others rather than simply expecting to find the elusive perfect job or new client. Relax, take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can bring to the conversation or offer in the form of contacts, knowledge or resources.
  2. Improve your outlook, and your ability to connect will change. If you have a negative outlook on networking, you’re probably sabotaging your chances at connecting with others. Dump the negative attitude, be friendly, and you might be surprised at what comes back your way. Put all the negative or disappointing encounters you may have had behind you and focus on what’s possible. As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
  3. Take a proactive approach. Don’t wait for others to initiate conversations or hide behind your mobile device(s). You eventually have to make yourself accessible in order to meet people to know if you’ll really connect with them, and the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find the “right” people for you.
  4. Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum if you’re at an event where it’s being served. Being relaxed is good, but having your buzz on, and then acting inappropriately, is never a good way to be remembered.
  5. Be the person to include others in the conversation. Your smile is the key to helping other people feel at ease when they try to approach or join the circle. Take that 2 seconds to say, “Please join us.” It’s a great way to create a good impression and even set an example for others. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  6. Be polite and considerate. Good manners never go out of style. Don’t be guilty of what I call “the nametag scan.” Be present and mindful when interacting or trying to connect with others. And, remember, a conference is a time to be noncompetitive and social in a professional yet friendly way.
  7. Be sincere and open, and follow through on the commitments you make. Authenticity leaves a lasting impression. Even if you don’t find a way to assist one another immediately, you never know when someone might remember you and introduce you to a key new contact down the road. And if you promise to make an introduction or e-mail a link to a relevant resource, be sure to follow up after the event. Follow-up is a key factor in making a good impression and creating lasting relationships that lead to new opportunities. Remember, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” as Roman philosopher Seneca put it.
  8. Make a graceful entrance. Get comfortable with smiling in public. As mentioned earlier, your smile is the key to helping put others at ease, and when someone with a smile approaches you at a conference, don’t you often smile back in kind? As you approach, extend your hand for a handshake and introduce yourself. Open your conversation with the one sure thing you know you have in common: Find out what brought them to the event you’re both at or if this is the first time they’ve been to the conference. Another easy question is “So, Joe, what are you working on these days?” And because I approach most of my networking as community service, and like to take a pay it forward approach to it, I typically follow-up with a, “Is there anything you need help with in your world right now?”
  9. Make a graceful exit. Get comfortable with one of the many easy ways to exit a conversation. It’s always pleasant to hear, “Well, David, I enjoyed hearing about your practice (or work or goals or history with King & Spalding), but I need to find the facilities (or bar or my colleague or the event host) and I will definitely keep your card handy should I think of any ideas (or resources or clients or partners) for your project (or book or search or services).”
  10. Business cards and a pen: your conference best friends. Always have your biz card and a pen somewhere on you. And be sure to replenish your card stash each morning or during breaks. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their card when you think you might be able to offer them assistance and as a way to note their need somewhere on their card as a reminder for yourself. A lot of people believe cards have gone by the wayside, but I think this is one of the reasons they’re still relevant.

What do you think? Would these 10 tips help you at the next event you attend?