Make Conferences Meaningful: 3 Tips to Help Strengthen Your Network

It’s the height of Spring conference season. You love the joy of getting away from the office and, if you're lucky, to a cool city or tropical location. There's also the hope of expanding your network, yet that doesn't always go as hoped. Why?


Meeting new people and building a meaningful connection is hard. Approaching random strangers is awkward. Small talk sucks. You likely find yourself only doing a few transactional exchanges of business cards. You return home wishing you had walked away with more meaningful connections. It doesn't have to be that way!
Our purpose at Bourbon Fat is to make work meaningful. Work sometimes includes being away from "work" at a conference. Here are some tips for for making the most of your conference networking experience.

1. Show You're There to Connect

The conference you're attending likely has some social media presence built in. Take advantage ahead of time by letting your fellow attendees know that you're coming. Share your personal goals for the conference. Describe the type of connections you'd like to make. Say how you'd like to make them too, e.g. over a coffee break, a group dinner, or happy hour! Don’t forget: include a recent photo so folks recognize you.

2. Plan Ahead

If your conference has a public list of other attendees, do some research of who might be a good connection. Everyone has a LinkedIn profile, so you could send a message ahead of time to arrange a meet and greet. Be choosy in who you want to meet and explain why in your invites. Please don't be sales-pitchy. Focus on building professional relationships during the conference. Save the sales stuff for after the conference once you have some meaningful rapport. It also relieves some of the pressure on yourself. Embrace the moment to learn, listen, and reflect.

3. Skip the Small Talk

Small talk at networking breakouts is often the most painful part of conferencing. "Hi, I'm Allen. Where do you work? What do you do there? Interesting. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah." Instead of the same ole non-memorable conversations, try going deeper.  Marcel Schwantes wrote an article recently in Inc. Magazine about banning small talk. He provides 13 questions you could lead with instead, allowing for deeper connections.

Button Up

We are unveiling a game at the 99u Conference this week called Button Up. It is those who are interesting that we tend to remember and stay in contact with. Button Up helps you skip the small talk and get to memorable conversation, faster. It provides a fun twist on the internal friction of approaching someone you haven't met yet.



Try these three tips at you next conference and let us know how they work out for you. Share some tips of your own too!

Follow along with the launch of Button Up on Twitter and Instagram: #ButtonUp #99uConf.