Networking Like a Pro: Tips to Master the Convention Circuit
Read on to get one CEO's advice on networking at developer conventions, how to get the most out of the experience, and how to make those connections meaningful.
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It’s convention time! That wonderful time of year is here again—the convention circuit is on! PAX, GDC, E3, ComicCon, MomoCon, small expos . . . there are so many conventions and events coming up that I could write a whole article just listing them off. But that’s not why I’m here.
I’ve been to a fair amount of conventions in my life in many capacities—exhibitor, speaker, and attendee. Every convention I go to it’s very clear who the networking and event veterans are and who the new folks are. Don’t get me wrong, though: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being new to the convention scene. A lot of students or first-time developers find their first few conventions to be the most difficult.
Conventions are a great time for everyone if you know what you’re doing, but they can also be a nightmare if you go unprepared. I’m going to talk very briefly about a few key points that helped me step up my convention game.
Don’t go nuts with the niceties. The purpose of attending conventions as a professional is to network and figure out ways to provide mutual value with people. If you walk up to the booth of some service provider, there’s no need to try to force in some fluff about how you’re “such a big fan” and “really admire the work they’re doing”—just get to the point. Talk about why they are at the event, how they can help you, and how you can help them. If you actually are a fan then great! But don’t feel obligated to be too wishy-washy with the niceties. They’re there to work, as are you.
Don’t be cold either, though. That being said, there is a fine line between “professional” and “a-hole.” You want to keep the conversations efficient and all about a specific purpose, but there’s no reason to be too blunt or rude. Conventions are long and tiring experiences, especially for exhibitors or speakers. Important influencers and key industry members get hounded by hundreds of people every day. Don’t forget that even though you want to provide mutual value for a certain company or service, you are also talking to a person. And that person may be tired, hungry, and worn out from a long day of talking to people. Be nice, be polite, and be respectful.
Fine-tuning this balance between being personable and being efficient/professional is very tricky and is something even I struggle with. I’m a really friendly guy and I love chatting with people. But when I’m on an expo floor and everyone is trying to be as efficient as possible I have to be careful not to get too caught up in the chit-chat. However, at the same time, I find it hard to just keep things professional without injecting too much of my personality and chattiness into the conversation. Just work on it and try and get a feel for the other person in the conversation and how they’re reacting to you. Then adjust accordingly!
Be prepared. Print out enough business cards (you can never have enough, trust me!) As exhibitors at TwitchCon 2016, I think we must have handed out at least 400-600 cards. Even at E3 2016, I think we exchanged cards with almost 100 people just through passing conversations. For a 2- or 3-day event, I’d say as an attendee bringing around 250 cards is probably a safe bet. You can get some great business cards printed at Vistaprint for cheap. Use RetailMeNot to try to find coupons (there are always some coupons to be used).
Being prepared also extends beyond just bringing enough business cards. Make sure you bring a bottle of water, some snacks, and enough battery on your phone (an external charger is always a good idea). Know where the bathrooms and water fountains are, keep a floor plan/map of the expo floor in your bag (oh yeah, bring a small drawstring bag to keep your stuff and any swag you get) and generally know where things are for easier navigation.
Don’t overextend yourself. If you start to feel tired, just take a break and sit down. There’ll be couches or chairs somewhere (or in someone’s booth). Don’t overstress or exhaust yourself: you won’t be able to network or enjoy the event as much. Eat plenty, drink lots of water, and pace yourself.
Scope out the convention area. This includes:
- Know how to get to and from the exhibition hall.
- Check out public transportation and parking resources nearby.
- Find out what restaurants/bars are around the expo. Food is always cheaper outside the expo hall. Don’t feel like you have to pay ten bucks for a tiny little pizza when you can probably head five minutes from the hall and get a solid meal for the same or less. Most expo halls are near a Chipotle/McDonalds/Panera type place anyway. Or you can explore local restaurants! Checking out the local sites is a great way to unwind from a day of intense networking.
- Speaking of, see what local attractions you can check out. Most convention floor hours are something like 10 am to 5 pm or 6 pm, so you’ll have some down time. When I was in Atlanta for MomoCon I got to see the Aquarium, the Coke Museum, and a couple of other really nice places.
Meet outside the convention to solidify a relationship. If you’ve met someone at the convention that you’re getting along with and who would be a valuable connection to have, extend the relationship beyond just the conference space. Invite them to get dinner/see a movie/grab drinks/go to an after party together. In my experience, once you’ve taken an expo floor relationship to the outside world, it’s officially a solid connection. Sharing a meal or some drinks is a great way to get to know someone.
That’s about it for things I want to go into detail about. Here are a few other miscellaneous quick little pro-tips (feel free to comment if you have any questions about these or want more details!):
- Ask around and scope out any parties/evening meetups well before the convention so you have a game plan and can get tickets or RSVP. For the introverts out there, being able to chat online about an upcoming event is a great way to break the ice in advance.
- Have a list of booths and people you want to hit up. Prepare one or two talking points for each meeting on the list. This helps a lot with efficiency. You can find lists of attendees and exhibitors usually through a portal provided by the event hosting company.
- Connect with people you meet on Twitter/FB/LinkedIn and Tweet at them/DM them after you connect with them. This helps keep you on their radar and vice versa.
- Similarly, use Twitter/FB/LinkedIn to meet people in person. Every convention I go to I tweet out “Who’s at _____?! I’d love to say hi!” and usually get at least a few replies (more if we’re exhibiting).
- Try Airbnb or Priceline to get cheap lodging around the area.
- Use public transit as much as possible. Exhibition hall parking is stupid expensive, especially in a big city, and rideshare app fees add up quickly.
Thanks for reading! Please leave some comments below and let me know what you think. Do you agree with my points? How do you manage the friendliness-efficiency line? Which conventions are you most looking forward to?
Published at DZone with permission of Raghav Mathur, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
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