take Initiative making connections that countMany of us attend conferences and professional organizations for continuing education, but these can be great opportunities to make new connections, if we have the right mindset. Approaching new people can be difficult because of obstacles we put in front of ourselves as well as those innate to a learning setting. As a result, you leave events without making meaningful contacts.

Until people are given permission to meet others, most feel self-conscious and stay within their comfort zones. Ideally, every conference or event should begin with intentional networking events that encourage attendees to meet new people. I use the BizTalk Blender® to do just this, when given the opportunity, but it is still rare. Until these icebreaker events become a standard, attendees must take initiative.

Overcoming Obstacles

Whether you’re shy or outgoing, figuring out how to meet people on your own is difficult. Because it is comfortable, many people will stay in tight-knit groups with those they know.  Breaking into those tight-knit groups can be tough.  But what do you do in a crowded room full of people?

Here are six ideas to make it easier for you to connect at these events:

  1. Many conferences provide registrants with a list of those who registers. If that is the case, review the list and connect over social media before arriving to make arrangements to meet up before you get there or during the event
  2. If you are attending an event for the first time, ask the conference organizers if they have a program for first-timers. Some provide a special badge for newbies, prompting others to approach and welcome them.
  3. Connect with speakers ahead of time. Research them and find them on social media. Send a personal note explaining that you will be at the conference and look forward to hearing them speak.  Ask them if they will have time to meet. If not, no worries, be sure to say hello to them before or after their presentation. Then follow up with a nice note. You’ll be surprised how effective this gesture can be.
  4. Challenge yourself to walk up to someone standing solo and introduce yourself. If they are standing alone, they may be very relieved to have someone to talk to. Invite them to go with you to meet others.
  5. Be prepared.  Ask yourself a few questions to determine your goals. Why are you going? What kind of people do you want to meet? Are you looking for sales, business referrals, or a mentor?  Clearly defining your objective will make it easier to find the right people.
  6. Being in a group provides security, but it also can be a hindrance. If you do go with a group, plan goals and create a supportive outreach team beforehand. Get together for breakfast, but disperse during lunch, and meet up again for drinks later. There’s no need to be split the entire time, but utilize the conference time to meet new people. Once you’ve met some new people, you can make great connections for them by introducing them to your friends

Becoming a Natural

How do you become someone who effortlessly connects with others? A trick is to not just approach people, but to make yourself approachable as well. There is nothing more beneficial than a smile and eye contact. A positive disposition is simple, and it makes people want to meet you.

Many conferences supply badges, which unfortunately hang around the neck and land on the stomach—not prime placement for people to figure out who someone is. Bring your own badge and place it in an easy-to-see location, which makes you more accessible.

Once you are in a conversation, relate to the person you are talking with. Listening is crucial. Look them in the eyes, smile, and make a connection. Ask genuine questions and find common ground. If you are really interested in people, they will want to continue to talk to you and eventually you will be the focus of the conversation.

Do not try to sell at the starting point in a relationship. If a business interaction sounds promising, arrange a future time for that, but do not do it at the conference. Build relationships and learn enough to be a great connector for them.

Smart Sales Tip:

“A trick is to not just approach people, but to make yourself approachable as well. “

Following Up

What you do after the conference is just as important as what you do during. Schedule time to do the follow-up before you leave for the conference. Follow up with each person that you met because you never know what great things may come. Some connections will not result in anything, but many will be great connectors, collaborators, referral sources and clients. Whether by phone, Skype, email, lunch or social media—make it happen. Continue to build the relationship and find a way to help your new connection before you ask for anything. It can be as simple as sharing a resource, recommending a book or making an introduction. Learn about them and give them the opportunity to know you and develop a relationship of trust.

Alice Heiman is a sales strategist, coach, training and speaker who has been helping companies increase sales for 20 years. Other sales experts may tell you how to increase sales, but few show you exactly how to do it and make it so easy. Alice will show you a simple process to generate leads, qualify opportunities, handle objections and close the deal.

Alice publishes on the topics of Sales, Networking, and Digital Business Strategy for entrepreneurs, sales professionals, and small business owners at http://aliceheiman.com/blog