It can be a bit unnerving attending a large conference on your own; Where to go? Who to speak to? What to see? etc, but networking can play an important part in career success, meeting like-minded individuals and forging valuable relationships.
Our 2016 conferences are brimming with great ways to connect delegates with other users. It’s the one time in the year we bring a large proportion of the UKOUG community together to network face-to face: the most valuable networking possible. But when, what you get out of your mingling really does come down to the effort you put in, it can be hard to know where to start when it’s your first time or if your networking skills are a bit rusty.
To arm you with strategies and get you excited about your conference networking experience, we’ve canvassed our regular attendees to find out their recommendations to maximise your networking success.
Download the mobile app
Once you've registered for the conference you'll get the password to download the conference app. This comes with its own networking functionality so you can engage with people upfront to arrange meeting up whilst at the conference.
Each of the conferences has its own LinkedIn group, Twitter hashtags and a Facebook group - so you can see who is posting about the event and most probably attending. Speakers are often on Twitter so you can even pose questions to them ahead of the event which will give you a nice reason to engage with them onsite. Maybe your colleagues are already connected with them, get them to introduce you as it's easier to meet new connections through a mutual contact.
The number one top tip from our past delegates – talk to everyone you can when you’re in a queue – that’s where you find the little nuggets of information that pay returns on your conference spend.Have your "elevator pitch" ready which will quickly summarise who you are, what you do etc
Waiting for sessions to start
When you sit down in a session it's very common not to sit next to someone but if you're in the same row or pass someone, a friendly greeting can often pave the way for further conversation whilst you wait for the speaker to begin or when you're heading out the door do comment on what you thought of the session or ask their thoughts.
Share things you find interesting on your conference adventures on the mobile app & Twitter using the conference hashtag. We’ll be following the hashtags and retweeting so we can help raise your social profile and build your online network ahead of December. Keep up the posting whilst at the event, whether it's your thoughts or a photo or two; it’s surprising what conversations strike up (either electronically or face-to-face) after tweets have been posted.
Pin badges/ ribbons
We provide pin badges on site to aid your networking. These visible clues help you identify other delegates with similar community interests to get your conversations started. You'll also see those who have multiple roles onsite (eg. speaker & exhibitor) with ribbons attached to their badges, ie look out of the event committee & volunteers, they'll be happy to chat about your feedback or time onsite.
Interactive roundtable sessions
It’s a great way to meet people currently experiencing similar issues and you may even find a solution. Use these sessions to your advantage; identify who you want to connect with during the discussions, introduce yourself when you take part so they recognise you when you later hook up to carry the conversation on further.
Top tip: on your way round the hall, look out for Partner of the Year Award winner flags, you can use these as an ice breaker/starter for 10 by asking the exhibitor what they won. Also many of the exhibitors will have games on their stand, take part for some fun and you'll probably find you get some support cheering you on.
Attend the social events
These are the best networking activities of the whole event – the place to really master and build your networking skills. They’re also an opportunity for you to spend some downtime with your connections and have some fun after a hard day of learning. The Community Networking events are hosted by our volunteers so they are looking to have conversations about the Special Interest Group they run.
Need a few pointers on how to work a room?
This fun short video from Andy Bounds Online offers some great advice on how to make networking effortless.
Feeling lonely onsite
If you’re struggling with the networking and you're looking for a friendly face, find a member of UKOUG staff, they'll always be someone at the UKOUG Lounge, they'll be able to introduce you to other members and you'll also get a comfortable seat while you wait. ) UKOUG volunteer (look for the purple ribbon attached to their badge) – we’re great fun to be around, know heaps of lovely people we can introduce you to and we do genuinely care that you have an amazing conference experience.
A simple "I attended your talk on X, would you mind if I had a chat to you about Y" will usually arm you with more inside information that you'd ever wish for. Of course sometimes a speaker might be on his way to another session but over 3 days and loads of social events you should have some time to have a discussion.
Divide & conquer
If attending as a group split up – you can cover more ground. Plus, individuals are more approachable than a group of people. If you are chatting as a group also be aware of others you may see standing on the sidelines, invite them to join in and keep your circle open, it's hard to join in if there appears to be a barrier.
Break the ice
Don't sit back and wait for people to approach you - take advantage of natural opportunities for introductions. For example, the person you are sitting next to at a session; when asking questions during sessions state your name and role; introduce yourself to session speakers afterwards "really enjoyed your session on xyz". Once you've broke the ice you'll be away!
Don't be afraid to join in
When visiting the partner stands listen in on conversations or better still contribute to them.
Make good use of your existing connections
Engage with the speakers, organisers and staff; particularly if you want them to broker an introduction to someone. They will be more than happy to facilitate introductions.
When registering there’re always people milling around some of who will be in the same situation as yourself. Look out for First Timer symbols on badges – it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation "Is this your first time at UKOUG?".
Quality is better than quantity
Don't beat yourself up that you don't seem to have met many people; but make sure that those that you have engaged with have been quality conversations. If you still have business cards, remember to give them out or otherwise ensure you get their details and connect with them on LinkedIn etc.
Networking doesn't end when you leave a conference, it’s a continuous interactive process so arrange to follow up and make sure you action it. Connect on social media channels, keep an eye out for their blog posts and generally interact with your new connections online as well as face-to-face to strengthen and develop your relationships.
Consider visiting every stand in a conference exhibition hall if you have time. Just because you haven't heard of a particular exhibitor doesn't mean they don't have something to offer that could be of tremendous value to you and your organisation. You can arrange a post event follow-up session to go into more detail without making any commitment.
Above all else... smile!
Networking will be 10 times easier if you look friendly and approachable.
Have we missed something? If you’re a seasoned networker we'd love to hear any additional tips you have, feel free to share them below.