Some people don’t know this about me, but I actually spent several years working with a major blogging conference. During my time there, I served in multiple roles, and I learned a lot about networking at conferences.
There’s an art to it, but more importantly… there are some secrets about attending conferences that most people don’t know.
This is not a list of things like “don’t forget your business cards” (even though you totally shouldn’t forget your business cards). And I’m not going to tell you to pack comfortable shoes (even though you totally should pack those shoes). Those kinds of things are no-brainers, and I see conference attendee tips all the time that list stuff like that.
This list of tips is for people who are ready to hustle. It’s for people who want to squeeze every single opportunity out of their time at the conference. It’s for bloggers who are ready to make things happen.
If that’s you… I’ve got some secrets to share!
1. Start networking before the event starts, especially with people that most bloggers overlook.
Most blogging conferences have specific hashtags, so you can – and should – start networking using this hashtag months or even weeks before the event.
This is a great way to network with other attendees, especially if you are looking for a roommate or what to join/organize a meetup.
But something that most people overlook is that networking using the conference hashtag is that it makes it possible for you to interact with people that most bloggers overlook – the organizers.
You want the people who work for the conference to know your name, because if the do, doors will start to open for you. Specifically, interact with the people who have titles like community manager or community director. They want to know who the conference superfans are, because they know that your testimonial about the event will help sell more tickets in the future.
And of course, they will want you to come back every year. 🙂
Once you’ve connected online, make sure that you also connect with conference organizers at the event itself. Learn where the show office is, and meet the organizers in person. Remember that they are super busy during the event, but if you need help with something just ask. They want to help you!
Networking with the conference organizers has an added benefit; you will potentially come to mind when they are looking for speakers next year. So if you’ve thought about getting up on stage to share your knowledge, you want to get on the radar of the conference employees.
Pro tip: Ask the conference organizers if they have a Twitter list of attendees, an attendee Facebook group, or a directory. It makes it easier to connect with people before, during, and after the conference.
2. Be ready with an extra bottle of water, and swoop in to be the hero.
This is one of the BEST tips I was ever given, so I need to pass it on to all of you.
At most blogging conferences, there are big-name speakers who everyone wants to meet. You are going to want to meet these people, and even more importantly, you want to make an impression on these people so they remember you.
It could lead to partnerships, guest posts, interviews, jobs… the sky is really the limit!
But they get swarmed by people everywhere they go.
So even if you get to shake their hand… they probably won’t remember you (sorry… sad but true).
What you can do to change that is this: make sure you have a bottle of water with you, or go grab a bottle of water from the lounge if there is one, or even go buy a bottle of water if you’re at a hotel of conference center with food and drink kiosks.
Then, approach the person, and give them the water. Tell them that you noticed that they were overwhelmed by fans, and you thought they might be thirsty.
Seriously, it’s as easy as that. They will be super grateful, and they will remember your good deed even if they do not have a huge amount of time to talk to you.
Then, that evening, follow up with a tweet mentioning the person. Make that connection while you are still fresh in their mind.
I have invited some pretty big-name speakers to have dinner with me after meeting them like this… and they have said yes! I have been able to connect with some awesome people that way, and have even ended up in hotel suite parties, the kind where you take a special elevator and need to give your name at the door to get in. Fancy-pants, right?
Pro tip: I also fill my bag with anything others might need – Tylenol, band-aids, hair ties, gum, power strips, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc. That way, you can be as helpful as possible to the people around you, whether they are a “big name” or not. When you are helpful, you are also remembered. Today’s brand new blogger is tomorrow’s MEGASTAR. No connection you make is a bad connection! Plus, you know, being a decent human being is rad.
3. Tweet at people immediately after meeting them.
The big-name speakers, personalities, and celebrities you meet at conferences aren’t the only ones you should contract after meeting. I recommend tweeting at people as soon as possible – within an hour or two of meeting them if you can.
When I attend conferences, I like to put people’s Twitter handles in a note in my phone as soon as I get their business card. Then, when I have a small break in activity (like when I’m waiting for a session to start or grabbing a bite to eat), I send out “nice to meet you” tweets to everyone in my note. I try to reference something said in the conversation if I can remember anything specific. Then, I delete them and start making the list all over again as I meet even more people!
You’re going to meet a LOT of people at any blogging event, and networking at conferences can be hard because you start to forget who people were. I know that I’ve been contacted by people after the event who I do not remember meeting at all. They just didn’t make an impression on me, and weeks later, I’ve completely forgotten them. Tweeting at people immediately is the best way to make sure you aren’t forgotten.
Pro tip: Each morning of the conference, take a selfie and put it live as you profile picture on Twitter, Instagram, and any other social networks you’re going to be using heavily while at the conference. Most people don’t look 100% like their profile pic, depending on how they do their hair and what they are wearing. A super up-to-date selfie featuring the clothing you’re actually wearing makes it easier for people to find and recognize you. At the very least, make sure your profile pick isn’t a logo or a picture from high school (unless you’re actually in high school).
4. Go to the networking parties, and the after parties, and the hotel room parties, and…
Parties are where you will meet the most people. I get it that it is super tempting to have a quiet dinner after a busy day at the conference, but if you want to get the most value possible, drag your butt to the parties at least for a few hours.
I’m a total introvert, so this has always been really hard for me, and there have been times times I’ve skipped out and relaxed in my hotel room instead. I’ve always regretted that decision.
Self care is really important, so I do recommend taking breaks when you need it if you are an introvert too. But push yourself to get out there as much as possible. You’re going to find partners, sponsorship opportunities, jobs, and life-long friends if you attend the parties, even if you are uncomfortably awkward. Trust me, you won’t be the only one. Look for someone who looks even more uncomfortable than you are, walk over, and say hello. 🙂
Pro tip: If you are feeling shy, a great way to introduce yourself to someone is a compliment. Walk up to someone and say, “I just had to tell you, I love your dress!” (Or whatever… be genuine!) It’s easy to spark a conversation that way, even for introverts. It also helps you feel more confident if you look your best. I use Gwynnie Bee to make sure that I have high-quality outfits to wear to every party, even if I’m on a budget.
5. Do not skip the workshops/sessions.
Skipping a party here or there is not the end of the world, but I am truly amazed at the number of people who skip the conference sessions to network in the hall. Hey, I get it… you’re chatting with someone while walking to the next session and suddenly you’ve missed half of it. I even know that some people say they don’t attend ANY of the sessions. They go to conferences purely to network in the halls and at the parties.
Whatever floats your boat. But…
I think skipping conference sessions is a huge mistake!
You can always learn something new. The world of blogging changes all the time, so to say that you’ll never learn anything in a session is pretty arrogant. I have been blogging for over a decade, and I always come away from conferences with tidbits of information.
Even if you don’t learn anything new, I guarantee that you are probably not running your blog perfectly. Sure you might know you need to do something… but you just haven’t made time for it… well, attending a session can help motivate you to make it happen!
Pro Tip: Always, always, ALWAYS stand up and as a question if they allow you to do that. Say your name and your blog name, and then ask something really intelligent. Whatever you do, don’t spend your time at the mic on self-promotion, and don’t take up so much time that no one else can ask their question. But don’t be afraid to ask something! I promise, you won’t look stupid. You’ll stand out. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me after a session because they heard me ask a question and it made them want to get to know me and my blog.
6. Spend time at every booth on the tradeshow floor.
This is another thing that blows my mind… lots of bloggers go to conferences, but do not speak to brands who are set up on the tradeshow floor. Almost every conference has a trandshow component, with booths of sponsors, and if you aren’t stopping by every single booth, you are really missing out.
You might at first think that you don’t want to work with brands, but it goes beyond sponsorship. If you do want sponsors, this is a great place to find them (and here’s how to set your prices), but you will also find new tools and meet brands that can help you in other ways. For example, I was once at a conference speaking to a brand that had little to do with any of my blogs, but they ended up contacting me after the conference and offering me some freelance consulting work.
When you know about the brands at the conference, you can also refer other people to brands that are a good fit. Maybe you don’t care about that food brand, but when you meet someone in the hall who is a food blogger, you can give her the tip to check them out. When you can be helpful to others, people will remember you and want to work with you.
Pro tip: Connect with the people working for the brand (like their PR person or the owners) on social media, not just the brand itself. You want to build lasting relationships with the PEOPLE so that even if they move to other companies, they still send opportunities your way.
7. Guest post for the conference as close to the show date as possible.
During the conference (and immediately before), the conference website will get the most traffic. That’s when the conference organizers are also the busiest. So, take a moment and propose a guest post for them. Most conferences love a little help with their blog when they are super busy.
Not only will this help you get traffic, but it also puts you on the radar for the conference organizers, which as I mentioned previously, is important.
To be as valuable as possible, think about a guest post that you can do that ties into the event. For example, you might write a post about how to create a media kit, since bloggers who will be attending the event might want to bring a media kit.
Conference organizers also LOVE guest posts that are about the city where the conference is being help. Many times, the organizers are not from that city, so they love tips and tricks about how to get around, things to do before/after the conference, places to eat, etc. If you live in/near that city or travel there often, propose a guest post about that topic!
Pro tip: When you do guest posts, most conference put up a little bio of the author. Instead of linking to your homepage, link to a page you create specifically for visitors from that guest post. You can list whatever is most important to you on this page. For example, tell people your IG handle if you’ll be using it heavily during the conference. Or tell them what sessions you plan to attend. Or link to blog posts that are most relevant to them. Having a landing page like this instead of linking to your home page will get people a lot more interest in your blog.
8. Before you leave, fill your blog with your best content ever.
Right before you leave for a conference, you might be tempted to write a post about how you’re going to the conference. Don’t do it! It’s tempting, but ultimately doesn’t reflect what people can normally find on your blog. Yes, you can mention that you’re going to the conference, but the 3-5 blog posts leading up to your departure date should be the best blog posts of your life!
You want people you meet to go to your blog and think, “WOAH! I can’t believe how awesome this site is. Where has this person been all my life?!?!”
If your most recent post is just a “heading out of town, see you later” filler post… well, that isn’t going to inspire anyone new to follow you, is it? You’ve gone to all this trouble to network with people. Don’t blow it by having sub-par or boring content when they check out your blog.
Round-up posts work really, really well for this purpose, since it instantly puts all of your best work on your front page. For example, if I were going to a conference tomorrow, I might write a post called “My 10 Best Tips for Getting More Blog Traffic,” and each tip would link to a blog post I’ve previously written. It introduces my blog to people in an easy way, plus it is quick to write since the blog post is mostly links instead of a complete post from scratch.
Pro tip: Scheduled posts while you’re gone. You will NOT have time during the conference, and this is not the right time to fill your blog with guest posts. Also, schedule posts for the week after you get back. Conference plague is a thing. My estimation is that at least 20% of attendees at any conference I’ve attended have gotten ill afterward, and that’s probably a low estimate. Air travel + shaking hands + lack of sleep = siiiiiiick
9. Host a “loner” dinner.
Don’t know anyone who will be attending? That’s okay! Take the initiative and host a “loner” dinner the first night you’re in town. You can even call it that – “loner diner.” All you have to do is pick a meeting time and start tweeting using the conference hashtag. Make it clear that anyone who needs a friend is invited.
I do this every time I go to a conference. Sometimes, only 1 or 2 people show up. Sometimes, we have a huge crowd and end up going to multiple different restaurants. Either way, you’ll make some new connections.
Be ready to meet some crazy characters, as well as people who are super introverted or shy. I’m not the best conversationalist naturally, but a really great conversation topic is, “what is your blog about and why did you decide to start it?” People have really great stories about why they got into blogging.
Pro tip: Don’t step on conference organizers’ toes. Before hosting an unofficial event like a “loner dinner” make sure that it isn’t at the same time as an official event. This is super rude to the organizers and sponsors. Also, don’t “brand” your event unless you have the blessing of the conference. In other words, if you run ABC Blog and are attending XYZ Conference, don’t call it the ABC Blog Dinner at XYZ… this can actually be breaking conference rules, because you are using the conference to promote your brand without paying for a sponsorship. Keep it cool and casual, as a way to meet new people, rather than trying to create a promotional opportunity.
10. Always apply to speak.
You have something valuable to teach other conference attendees, even if you are brand new to the world of blogging. Think about your experiences and what you do well. For example, maybe you are a brand new blogger but have decades of experience in the world of publishing. Could you teach bloggers how to get a book deal? That would be an awesome talk. Think outside the box!
Conference organizers do want sessions to be led by “big names” so more people attend the conference. If you can’t bring that to the table, what can you offer? Get on the organizers’ radar (see my previous tip) and figure out how you can be helpful. That way, they will consider you for a speaking spot, even if you don’t have a million pageviews per month.
You want to be a speaker because it opens more doors. Sometimes, there is a speak-only mixer. Sometimes, there is a speaker lounge. Sometimes, speakers get special badges, identifying them as such. It is easier to network when you are a speaker.
Pro tip: Many conferences are also looking for panels, so if you don’t have the expertise to speak solo, moderate 3-4 other speakers who do. Pitch your topic with an open mind – conference organizers may have speakers in mind for your panel, or may expect you to fill out the panel. Be prepared for either scenario.
11. Arrive early. Stay late.
It does add expense to your trip, but if you can swing it, arrive at least 1-2 days early and stay at least 1-2 days after the conference. Most of the time, the hotel block special pricing is good for several days before and after the event.
If you have to choose just one or the other, stay late. It is the worst when you have to ditch a networking opportunity because you need to need to catch a flight.
Even if you can’t stay late, definitely do not leave on the last day of the conference. You might be tempted to book a a late flight out to save money on the hotel cost, but it is not worth it! You have to check out of your hotel, usually by 11 AM, which means you’ll spend the night before of the morning packing. Plus, you have to drag your luggage with you to the conference or trust the hotel to leave it at the front desk. It just makes the last day feel super frazzled.
Pro tip: Book your stay at the official hotel, which is in many cases the hotel where the conference is being held. It can be tempting to stay elsewhere and save money, but you will end up taking a taxi to the conference every day anyway, often late at night when you don’t really want to be traveling alone. Plus, staying at the hotel connected to the conference means you can run up to your room to grab more business cards, change for a fancier dinner or party if the occasion arises, etc. AND on top of that, the conference’s official hotel is where you’ll find unofficial afterparties, in most cases. Basically, it’s where the action is.
12. Follow up via email 3-5 business days after the conference.
In my experiences, 3-5 days is the sweet spot. You need to give people about a few days to get home and catch up on email, but if you wait longer than a week, memories of the conference will start to fade. People will forget conversations and be less likely to reply to you at that point.
If anyone emails you, follow up with them right away. Think about how you can help the people you’ve met, and make don’t be afraid to make connections if two people missed one another at the conference, but could benefits from knowing one another.
Pro tip: It can be hard to remember all of the conversations you have. Write bullet points on the back of business cards or – even better – start an email draft immediately after meeting someone. Save and send after the conference.
So, those are my 12 best tips about networking at conference! I hope you’ve found them helpful. Make sure you comment below if you have a tip of your own to share!
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