In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s conference season. Between now and December it’s a heady mix of legal events and along with absorbing lots of new content it is a chance to go NETWORKING. 

Networking. Did a word ever fill you with more dread? Much as I enjoy any kind of 80s reference, “networking” is one I wish we could get away from, along with “making contacts” and “working the room.” *shudder* 

Rather like public speaking, I wonder if anyone truly relishes the prospect of networking? Even for one of life’s extroverts who can generally talk for Britain, I am daunted at the thought of going into a room of strangers and negotiating conversations all day. And we have all had networking experiences that have scarred. The time we found ourselves standing awkwardly on the edge of a clique. The time someone walked away from us because they didn’t find us interesting . The time we wanted to walk away from someone as they revealed their passion for metal detecting….   

The narrative has changed. I don’t go to events to network. I go to connect, to listen, to learn. I go to meet like-minded people I might be able to help and who in turn, might one day help me. I never go to “meet leads” or come away with handfuls of business cards and quite frankly, neither should you. Events are about people, about human connections.  There is so much you can do to approach events with a sense of purpose and a different mindset. I think of event activity as falling into three separate stages, starting with the bedrock of any project: the research. 

The formalised curiosity of research  

Like anything, a successful event involves some research. Just like you would not go blindly into a client meeting without researching the business thoroughly (please, please tell me you do this!) spend time looking into the event you’ll be attending. Some things you might do in this regard: 

  • Research into previous events to get a sense of it. You might find some historic content: write-ups, videos, slideshows etc. Look at last year’s hashtag on Twitter to see what comes up. 
  • Research into this year’s event. Get a good grasp on the agenda, who is exhibiting and who is speaking.  
  • If it is a mega trade show, familiarise yourself with the lay out and the different zones so you have some direction. Know how you will approach the site and have a plan of action in this respect. 
  • What keynotes / speaking slots / workshops are you particularly looking forward to? If you are going to hear someone speak, you can connect in advance on social media and tell them you are looking forward to it and hope to meet them at the event. Speaking is also daunting and pre event support really helps in feeling like you have a warm audience. 
  • Who is sponsoring / exhibiting? Do your research into both so any conversations you have will be informed and knowledgeable and make any conversation easier. 
  • Yes, all the above takes time. But it will also empower you with confidence and purpose. 

Armed with your research it is time for…. 

The main event. Literally. 

  • Have a plan of action for the day. Know the agenda and where you are supposed to be at what time, which sessions you have chosen if there are streams.  
  • Doing live social media at the event is a great way to both share any good content you are learning with your audience and also connect with people doing same. Tag speakers into updates, thank the sponsors, give people a sense of atmosphere. You may also end up connecting with people who are not at the event itself, but are following your reporting.  
  • Listen, really listen. Don’t sell. Find out what people do, what they care about, how this works in the overall context of their business. 
  • “Your elevator pitch” belongs slightly in my Room 101 along with “work the room” to be honest,  but do think about how you talk about what you do in a relevant way, eg I help start-up and scale-up clients with their legal support. Make what you do as a legal services professional fun and dynamic. 
  • Business cards. What do we think? Personally, I do not have them. All my connecting is via LinkedIn and I will usually do on the day, as I meet them, before following up with a message the next day.  
  • Make an effort to engage with everyone. The organisers, the sponsors the exhibitors, the speakers and the other delegates.  Everyone plays a part in making a conference or an event successful, so why not interact with everyone accordingly? 
  • People buy people. People are not likely to remember what you did or who you worked for when you meet them at a conference, but they will remember your personal brand, how you came across and how you made them feel. Just. Be. Human. 

 Now the main event is over, and your work is still not done. It’s time to…. 

Invest in follow up  

  • Follow up really needs to be done directly after the event, as people move on quickly. So ensure you build in time for structured follow up the day after. Nothing worse than leaving it only to revisit and realise you have no clue who people were and what conversations you had. Seize the (BD) moment. 
  • Decide the best way to follow up with people. Some people you may had had extensive conversations with, you might like to email. Others, you may decide to find and message on LinkedIn. Consider and make it appropriate, non-intrusive and personal. 
  • If you saw someone speak and enjoyed it but didn’t get to speak with them, then follow up and say that. It takes a lot to put yourself on a platform, so express some thanks for that. 
  • If you wanted to see someone speak but didn’t manage to, then also follow up and say this.  
  • Thank the organisers – a huge amount goes into putting on a seamless event. It’s just a courtesy point! 

And finally, a word on your network 

 LinkedIn is the best social media tool for following up after conferences as once you are connected of course, you can engage and keep in touch with people you have had meaningful exchanges with. Your network is a valuable thing and deserves to be looked after. Aim to help people in your network. Give away thought for free. Read other people’s thought and take the time to comment and like it, just as you would listen to people in real life. Business does not just “convert.” It’s about building relationships, trust and credibility and coming across in the digital space as you would want to in real life.  

So be bold. Arm yourself with research. Meet people. Don’t collect business cards. Enjoy a day of listening, learning, connecting with other real-life human beings and building the foundations for some new relationships with like-minded souls who one day, you might be able to collaborate with. 

PS: whilst I do not enjoy a 1980s take on events, I do enjoy an 80s event itself.  

I am a marketing coach with a sweet spot for game-changing legal services businesses. If you would like a Discovery chat about how I might support your business, drop me a line on helen@saltmarsh.marketing.