10 Tips to Maximize Your Networking Opportunities at Professional Conferences

  • By Nicole Meyer, Mike Richards and Summa Simmons
  • Published: 6/10/2024
Making the Most of Conference

Attending an industry conference can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a first-timer, it's important to manage your energy and engagement levels to get the most out of the experience.

Here are ten tips to help you navigate a conference with ease and confidence.

1. Have a Goal for Attending the Conference

Why am I here? Have I been asked to attend this conference? Do I need credits to maintain my accreditation? Am I interested in learning, education, networking? Be clear on what you want to accomplish and what will define a successful event for you.

Have a GOAL. Work backward to accomplish it. Once you know what you want to get out of the conference, create a plan.

2. Manage Your Energy

Before the conference, take some time to understand your energy patterns. Ask yourself:

  • When do I learn best?
  • How long does it take me to "warm up" in the morning?
  • Do I need a cup of tea or coffee to start my day? What's my caffeine cutoff to avoid jitters?
  • When is my energy at its peak, and when does it start to dip?

Use these insights to plan your day. Schedule sessions and networking during your peak energy times and allocate breaks for recovery. Practice body scanning — check in with yourself if you start losing interest or patience. Find your best recovery method, whether it's a quick walk outside, a splash of cold water, or a 60-second meditation.

3. Be Yourself: The Foundation of Authentic Connections

It is essential to approach networking with authenticity. Being genuine about who you are and your professional aspirations makes it easier for others to offer support and collaborate with you. Attend conferences to meet peers with similar interests and goals, and remember, the most effective networking comes from a place of giving without expecting immediate returns.

Networking is about mutual benefit. Offer something first before you ask for something.

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4. Master the Net-WORK

Networking requires effort, i.e., 'net-WORK.' Before attending a conference, reach out to attendees and invite them to sessions or meet-ups. This proactive approach helps in breaking the ice ahead of the event, making actual face-to-face interactions more comfortable, especially for introverts.

Start early, plan ahead and do your homework. Initiate and don’t wait to be invited.

5. Prepare Your Elevator Pitch

Having a succinct and clear introduction ready can boost your confidence and help articulate your professional background and interests quickly and effectively. Combine this with a set of curiosity-driven questions to keep the conversation flowing. For instance, asking someone about their entry into the treasury field or discussing emerging trends can reveal common interests and opportunities for collaboration.

Introduce yourself with more than your title and company. Say something more memorable and compelling about what you do and how you contribute to your company’s ambitions. No one remembers names and titles; they do remember content and value.

6. Have Conversation Starters Ready

Starting a conversation at a conference can be both exciting and intimidating, but it becomes easier with a few strategic approaches. Begin with a warm smile and a friendly greeting to set a positive tone.

Open with a simple question about the event, such as, "What did you think of the keynote speech?" or "Is this your first time attending this conference?" These questions are non-intrusive and show genuine interest in the other person's experience. Prepare ahead 3-4 questions to create a comfortable and easy connection and conversation.

Complimenting something specific, like their insights during a session or their professional achievements if you know of them, can also be a great icebreaker. Additionally, sharing your own interests or reasons for attending can create common ground.

Remember to listen actively and ask follow-up questions, as this demonstrates engagement and can naturally lead to a deeper conversation. Ultimately, be yourself and let the conversation flow naturally, focusing on building a genuine connection rather than impressing the other person.

7. Practice Exiting a Conversation

Exiting a conversation at a conference gracefully is essential for maintaining professionalism and leaving a positive impression. It can be uncomfortable at first, but remember, everyone is in the same position of wanting to meet as many people as possible.

Begin by expressing appreciation for the conversation, such as, "It was great talking with you" or "I really enjoyed our discussion." Providing a reason for your departure can help ease the transition. You might say, "I have to attend the next session" or "I need to catch up with a colleague."

If appropriate, suggest a follow-up action, like exchanging contact information or arranging a time to continue the discussion later. A polite closing remark, such as, "I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference" or "I look forward to seeing you again," can help end the conversation on a positive note. Always be courteous and sincere, ensuring the other person feels valued even as you move on.

8. Conduct an End-of-Day Assessment

Each day is a new opportunity to review, reset and pivot if needed. Maybe you didn't hit all the networking events you planned, but you did get to bed early. Celebrate what went well and decide what you'd like to do differently tomorrow. Reflect on your achievements and set realistic goals for the next day.

9. Maintain Relationships: The Art of Follow-Up

Networking doesn't end with exchanging business cards. Keeping in touch is crucial. Make a habit of reaching out to new contacts after the event. A simple strategy involves scheduling regular check-ins and engaging via LinkedIn, where you can comment on posts or share relevant content. This not only keeps the relationship alive but also strengthens your professional network over time.

Networking takes time and practice. It’s not a one-time exchange; it’s about nurturing and growing relationships, thereby growing your circle of influence.

10. Secure Next Year’s Investment

After a successful conference, leverage your enthusiasm to build a case for attending next year. Here's how:

  • Reflect on the meaningful connections you made and the valuable insights you gained.
  • Think about how you can share what you learned with your team. Consider low-cost, timesaving or productivity hacks you discovered.
  • Plan a concise presentation (no more than 30 minutes) to share with your leader and colleagues within a week of your return. Highlight the benefits to your organization and the actionable takeaways you can implement.

For your year-end self-appraisal, tie your conference participation to specific accomplishments (e.g., improved public speaking, better cash forecasting accuracy, successful working capital solutions). Make it clear how your attendance added value, making it hard for your organization to say "no" to next year's conference.

By managing your energy, reflecting on each day, and effectively communicating the value of your attendance, you'll maximize your conference experience and set yourself up for future opportunities. Enjoy the conference and make the most of every moment!

Registered for AFP 2024? Be sure to check out the session “How to Maximize Your Networking Opportunities at AFP 2024” with Nicole Meyer, Founder and Managing Partner of The Meyer Partnership, Mike Richards, Chief Executive of The Treasury Recruitment Company, and Summa Simmons, Associate Vice President, Treasury, at Victoria’s Secret & Co.

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