Editor’s note: You may have missed an earlier version of this article when CMI published it last year. We’ve updated it this year for your fall conference season.
Conferences are not for the faint of heart. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert … getting the most out of any conference is a challenge. It’s one thing to go home with a stack of notes and takeaways; it’s another beast entirely to leave with fresh relationships and meaningful connections.
Yes, the magic of conferences is in the people.
What’s a marketer to do when people are exactly what leave your head spinning: “Who should I talk to? What should I say? Where should I go? How should I follow up?”
To answer those questions, I went to the source: you and your cohorts.
That’s right. I asked one question to as many people as I could at Content Marketing World 2016 and in advance of CMWorld 2017: “What’s your single best networking tip at a conference?” For a behind-the-scenes look at how this all came together, check out How to Attend a Conference and Take It Over (Even If You’re Not a Speaker).
What follows are 101 responses from keynoters, speakers, staff, and (above all) you, conference attendees. However, before we jump into the tips and infographic, let’s look at the big picture.
You are not alone in your fear, your trepidation, or your anxiety. No matter how much you feel like an outsider, we’re all in the same big, uncomfortable, sweaty boat. This applies as much to seasoned professionals as it does to first-time attendees.
Breathe deep, jump in, and don’t feel bad if you need some time to yourself – I know I always do.
Whether the person you’re walking up to is another attendee, a breakout speaker, or even a headliner, at the end of the day, they’re flesh and blood just like you. Our shared humanity reinforces the first eternal truth.
Compliments, curiosity, and smiles go a long way.
OK, so maybe that’s not universally true, but it’s true of the people who are worth meeting. The goal of a conference is to learn, grow, and connect. If you’re a part of that process, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Anyone who doesn’t greet you in kind, that’s on them … the jerks. Brush it off and get back out there.
The truth is, you never know to whom you’re speaking. While there’s something to be said for making a list of speakers and attendees you want to prioritize, the best connections are often spontaneous. This point shows up over and over in the tips.
Ask questions, be interested – not “interesting” – and treat the person in front of you like they’re the only one in the room.
Social media is ubiquitous, especially at conferences. Most events don’t just use hashtags, but they host Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well as official apps. Get sharing. Take selfies. Tag your new friends. Post your favorite quotes and lessons.
This social media activity helps during the conference and creates a digital record for you.
On that note, we’ve formatted each tip in a tweetable length, along with the author’s Twitter handle and shareable images throughout. This way, you can post your favorites easily – or even load up all 101 of them – to get a massive jump-start on your networking. Enjoy.
Images via Venngage.
Note: The quotes in the text are designed for you to easily tweet. The infographic contains the full quote from each person.
- Simon Geisler: “Make yourself recognizable. Use a silly hat. And if you’re really a smart guy, use the company’s branding.” @simon_geisler #CMWorld
- Anna W. Yunker: “To meet someone you follow, wait for a natural break and have a few topics you know they’re interested in.” @annawyunker #CMWorld
- Elaine Ball: “When you’re in the main sessions and breakouts, don’t just look down at your tech. Turn around and say, ‘Hi.’” @eballball #CMWorld
- Andy Crestodina: “After you meet someone, immediately look them up on LinkedIn. You’ll always find some contacts in common.” @crestodina #CMWorld
- Berrak Sarikaya: “Keep the momentum going … I took it a step beyond just email and created a Slack community to keep the networking alive.” @berrakbiz #CMWorld
- Bill Cushard: “When you see someone, and you’re in a group … look at them, reach out, say hi, and have them join your group.” @billcush #CMWorld
- Loes van Dokkum: “Go to the FRONT row for the most communicative people! That’s where the action is.” @loesvandokkum #CMWorld
- Dominik Grau: “Start a running group. Day 1: 8 a.m. Day 2: 6 a.m. Day 3: 5 a.m. That’ll help you connect on a human level.” @dominikgrau #CMWorld
- Ann Handley: “Come over. Say hi. Have a nice conversation. We’ll be besties.” @annhandley #CMWorld
- Rob Haber: “Don’t focus too much on work, otherwise it’ll start feeling stressful.” @robbyhaber #CMWorld
- Jason Schemmel: “Keep in mind that everyone around you is there for the same reasons: to learn and connect.” @JasonSchemmel #CMWorld
- Pam Didner: “Plan back-up sessions in case the first session is not what you expect it. Pace yourself and have FUN!” @PamDidner #CMWorld
- Rand Fishkin: “Create something that makes people want to come to you so that you don’t have to go and network.” @randfish #CMWorld
- Nicci Micco: “Be real. Be genuinely psyched to hear about the other person’s passions. Curiosity sparks collaboration.” @niccimicco #CMWorld
- Randy Bernard: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” @Rpfloydian #CMWorld
- Michele Linn: “Look for empty spots at tables during meals and just jump in!” @michelelinn #CMWorld
- Roger C. Parker: “After the event, introduce yourself to speakers with a specific reason you like their blog, book, or presentation.” @Rogercparker #CMWorld
- Jay Acunzo: “Don’t treat it like networking. Ask more questions than they do and be interested not interesting.” @jayacunzo #CMWorld
- Ehsan Khodarahmi: “Don’t try to inspire. Let everyone know who inspires you.” @eksays #CMWorld
- Shannon Waldschmidt: “Walk around alone. Don’t stay in your comfortable clique.” @debusiness #CMWorld
- Lisa Dougherty: “Make a statement. Wear some flair. It gives people an opportunity to come up and talk to you.” @brandlovellc #CMWorld
- Joe Lazauskas: “Everyone is as scared as you are. When people are scared they drink … so drink.” @joelazauskas #CMWorld
- Paula Monroy: “Use the conference app to not only connect with speakers but attendees as well … especially on LinkedIn.” @paulamonroy #CMWorld
- Becky Brooks: “Smile so much that you feel a little awkward about it. It comes across as welcoming … not scary.” @beckyws #CMWorld
- Mike Meyers: “Use the app from the conference, not just general social media. This adds to the feeling of being an insider.” @mikemyers614 #CMWorld
- Amanda Subler: “Make eye contact, smile, and you’re in.” @amandasubler #CMWorld
- Michael Brenner: “Ask people if they need a drink. SUPER easy opener – and nice.” @brennermichael #CMWorld
- Lisa Loeffler: “Make plans to connect with the people you want to see there before you go. Set a date and time.” @lisamloeffler #CMWorld
- Kelly Hungerford: “Create Dropbox folders ahead of time by session. Auto upload your pics for quicker redistribution to social channels via a laptop or tablet.” @kdhungerford #CMWorld
- Keegan Vance Forte: “Ask everybody about themselves first – not just to be a good person, but to qualify them before you pitch.” @keeganforte #CMWorld
- Zarina Stanik: “Go for compliments and eye contact … and do it over food or coffee. Make it natural.” @zarinas1 #CMWorld
- Derric Haynie: “When you really want a speaker’s attention, be the last person to talk to them.” @sixpeppers #CMWorld
- Tyler Logtenberg: “At the end of every evening, email the people you met that day. It will help cement you in their minds.” @tylerlogtenberg #CMWorld
- C. D. Houston: “Walk up and just make an observation … the first thing that comes to mind. It’s OK to be authentically odd: oddthentic!” @cd_houston #CMWorld
- Kirk Manley: “Sit next to somebody during everything. Find and fill empty seats instead of going to the back of the room.” @kirkmanley #CMWorld
- David Reimherr: “Always go to the parties, esp. the late-night parties. People open up after a martini … or three.” @davidreimherr #CMWorld
- Justin Shellenberger: “Share what might sound trivial via the app and hashtags. It starts conversations; that’s what we’re going for.” @jshellenberger #CMWorld
- Kyle Akerman: “Reach out to someone alone and intro them to someone else, a good friend or just someone you happened to meet.” @kyleakerman #CMWorld
- Kate Volman: “Follow people before the conference, check out their content, and start building a relationship. Then connect face to face.” @katevolman #CMWorld
- Amanda Gant: “Repeat people’s names once you meet them.” @orbiteers #CMWorld
- Ashley Stryker: “Get a mini Sharpie so you can write notes on business cards. It’s who you talk to and connect with after.” @writerstryker #CMWorld
- Susan Moeller: “Always think of what you can offer someone else. Offer them an opportunity … not another request.” @SusanCMoeller #CMWorld
- Carmen Hill: “Don’t be shy. Talk to people you don’t know even if they don’t talk to you first. Not always easy. Always worth it.” @carmenhill #CMWorld
- David Anthony: “Take a pic of business cards right then. Can’t count how many times I lost or laundered cards.” @crosslinc #CMWorld
- Erika Heald: “Look up people on Twitter. See who you have in common. Chat prior to the event so it feels more like a new friend.” @sferika #CMWorld
- Billy Connolly: “Find out something about the person you’re going to talk to and use that instead of their day job … surprise them.” @billconnolly #CMWorld
- Mari Smith: “Make sure you check out people’s bios. Find one thing you can connect with. Talk to them. Tweet to them. Whoohoo!” @marismith #CMWorld
- Marlene Oliveira: “I like to show up to sessions early and find a seat next to someone who looks receptive to conversation.” @mo_flow #CMWorld
- Maureen Jann: “Networking can feel like a sea of gimme, gimme, GIMME! Approach people from the perspective of how you can help.” @maureenonpoint #CMWorld
- Ben H. Rome: “Use your unique personality as your bridge to connecting with others; you might find something cool in common.” @bhrome #CMWorld
- Jeremy Bednarski: “Pretty much everyone you’re looking to talk to is probably looking to talk to somebody too. Make the first move.” @jeremybednarski #CMWorld
- Kevin Christie: “On the conference app I asked, ‘Anyone in the corporate-wellness space? Let me know.’ And they did.’” @drkchristie #CMWorld
- Gretta van Riel: “Your energy is more memorable than your words.” @grettavanriel #CMWorld
- Jay Bear: “Be mindful of conversation length. Ask a question and get an answer.” @jaybaer #CMWorld
- Jeremy Miller: “Be enthusiastic and passionate. People follow passion. Do not be Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.” @jjeremymiller #CMWorld
- Christoph Trappe: “Never stop tweeting from sessions and then connect offline with those who engage online. Don’t leave things up to luck.” @Ctrappe #CMWorld
- Silkhe Fuenmayor: “Show your opinion and pose some challenges. This adds value to discussions.” @silkhefuenmayor #CMWorld
- Andrew Davis: “With speakers, consume their stuff, comment, and tell them you’re there. I’ll make time for anyone.” @DrewDavisHere #CMWorld
- Bhupinder Nayyar: “Be genuinely curious and creative about speakers’ presentations or sessions. And offer them ice cream.” @xdbhupinder #CMWorld
- Brittany Berger: “I always ask what someone’s big goal for attending the conference is: ‘What are you mainly here for?’” @thatbberg #CMWorld
- Robert Rose: “No keynoter should think you’re being bothersome by approaching them. If they do, that’s their issue, not yours.” @Robert_Rose #CMWorld
- Shayla Price: “Use an app to record bite-sized, shareable audio from conference speakers, recurring attendees, and newbies.” @shaylaprice #CMWorld
- Nathan Chan: “Always finish the conversion with please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” @Nathanhchan #CMWorld
- Kristina Halvorson: “Be confident, be candid, and be brief!” @halvorson #CMWorld
- Rachel Pedersen: “You never know who you’re speaking with … so give each person your full attention!” @TheMrsPedersen #CMWorld
- John Hall: “Everybody wants to ask a favor when in reality you can stand out just by being helpful.” #givefirsttakelater @johnhall #CMWorld
- Jenifer Walsh: “Tie your question to a speaker’s presentation. Ask to connect. Humor helps.” @JLansky #CMWorld
- Marcus Sheridan: “As a speaker, I feel honored to be ‘bothered’ by attendees.” @TheSalesLion #CMWorld
- Johannes Ceh: “The Bavarian sausage and sweet mustard miracle: bring delicacies from your home country.” @johannesceh #CMWorld
- Bill Widmer: “More people will be interested in five minutes by (you) being interested in them … than in five years by talking about yourself.” @TheBillWidmer #CMWorld
- Pawan Deshpande: “Research and mention a unique fact about a speaker you’d like to meet (without being too creepy).” @TweetsFromPawan #CMWorld
- Jacqueline Jensen: “Starting with where you can add value to a person’s life goes a long way in building trust.” @JackieMJensen #CMWorld
- Justin Levy: “My best tip is to not be scared about approaching presenters. You’re not bothering them and won’t be weird.” @justinlevy #CMWorld
- Claire Trévien: “I love a personalized LinkedIn message saying: Hello, I see we’re both attending X conference.” @CTrevien #CMWorld
- Mordecai Holtz: “Take a picture with every person you meet, write a blog post about them and the lessons you learned. VERY Personal!” @mordecaiholtz #CMWorld
- Ryan Foland: “Start a #tweetnado by tweeting the entire event: use hashtags, Twitter handles, quotes, takeaways, images … everything!” @ryanfoland #CMWorld
- Joe Griffin: “I never plan my days too fully because that restricts me from exploring new possibilities and relationships.” @joegriffin #CMWorld
- Lee Odden: “Approach speakers with advanced warning, courtesy, even gifts of bacon.” @leeodden #CMWorld
- Hans van Gent: “All hail emoji. Be a facilitator, organize an exclusive event, research your audience and make the introductions.” @jcvangent #CMWorld
- Maneesh Sethi: “Make a splash before the event. Send greeting cards or make personalized hello videos for EVERYONE you want to meet.” @maneesh #CMWorld
- Nathaniel Schooler: “Quality over quantity is always best, it’s not about who they are and what they do, but who they know.” @NatSchooler #CMWorld
- Heidi Cohen: “Take the time to thank the speakers that helped you and give them the reviews they deserve!” @heidicohen #CMWorld
- Karla Campos: “When #networking with a buddy, split up at times because people will tend to associate you as the same business.” @SocialMediaSass #CMWorld
- Les Dossey: “Mute the world and tune into the person you are talking with. Ask great questions to learn from their unique genius.” @lesdossey #CMWorld
- Manu Goswami: “Go after the people who don’t have big lines. They’re more likely to engage and have time to provide value to you.” @goswish #CMWorld
- Gigi Rodgers: “When someone asks, ‘What do you do?’ respond, ‘Pass. What made you happy this week?’” @rodgersgigi #CMWorld
- Bobby Umar: “Always ask ‘How can I help you?’ Even better is ‘How can I help you make a difference?’” @raehanbobby #CMWorld
- Mike Alton: “Be open to unexpected conversations and opportunities, not just with the folks you targeted ahead of time.” @Mike_Allton #CMWorld
- Jeff Higgins: “Remember that networking and marketing are two completely different things: friends not leads.” @ItsJeffHiggins #CMWorld
- Leonard Kim: “If you prebuild a strong personal brand for yourself, all people will want to do is network with you at conferences.” @Mrleonardkim #CMWorld
- Brentt Berhoff: “Talk 20% of the time, and listen 80% of the time.” @BrettBerhoff #CMWorld
- Stanley Nnoromele: “Everyone has got an interesting story you can learn from, you wouldn’t know until you ask. Just ask and listen!” @AmaraGod #CMWorld
- Matthias Riedl: “I love bringing my ukulele! Singing songs from people’s home countries together is the perfect #GrowthHack!” @MazeRiedl #CMWorld
- Irene Koehler: “Create Twitter lists of attendees and speakers, share w/ event hashtag … easy way to connect during and after an event.” @IreneKoehler #CMWorld
- Ivan Kreimer: “Compliment people you already know to other people. You’ll look as good as the person you are complimenting.” @ivankreimer #CMWorld
- Daniel Kingsley Daines-Hutt: “Stay near the food and the conversation comes to you; plus, it’s far more natural.” @InboundAscend #CMWorld
- Larry Minsky: “In large, public spaces: go to the back of the room … people near the entrance are distracted.” @LaurenceMinsky #CMWorld
- Casandra Campbell: “Don’t stress about meeting everyone. Take time to make meaningful connections and develop lasting relationships.” @casandra_camp #CMWorld
- Aaron Orendorff: “Go in asking what can I give, not what can I get? That change takes the pressure off you to meet the ‘right’ people.” @iconiContent #CMWorld
- Nadya Khoja: “Ask people if they’re going to the parties. If they say no, get their drink tickets. You just made two friends.” @nadyakhoja #CMWorld
- Joe Pulizzi: “Follow the conference hashtag and answer people’s questions honestly and humanly and you’re gonna be a rock star.” @joepulizzi #CMWorld
To download these infographics as a single infographic, click here.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute