Community is richest when we’re doing life together. While face-to-face coffee meet ups and brainstorming sessions are valuable, something truly ignites when we connect during a live event such as a conference, workshop, or retreat. Spring and summer are chock-full of events, and being equipped to hold authentic, purposeful conversations that propel your work forward is essential. So, here are a few tips to help make the most of your next networking opportunity.

Do your research.

Pre-event, go through the list of speakers and attendees. A quick Google sweep can be helpful to point out talking points—maybe you share a hometown or alma mater with a speaker or member of your breakout group. With those conversation starters in hand, make some goals for your business: do you need to find a photographer to trade business with for new headshots or looking to hire a strong writer for web copy? Maybe you’re dreaming of partnering with a like-minded entrepreneur to launch an online course, or need tips to start your own. I have a tendency to get caught up in conversations and many times I leave an event realizing I forgot to connect with someone. Writing down goals before an event helps me be intentional about connecting with people who will propel my small business forward.

Decide if you’re going for breadth or depth.

Both options have their perks. One’s not better than the other, it just depends on the goals you’ve determined in preparation for the event. If you’re looking for breadth, it helps to set a numerical, measurable mark to hit: “I’ll give out and receive eight business cards” or “I’ll need to meet 15 people today to have met 45 by the end of the conference.” If you’re looking for depth, your pre-event research will help you know who you may have more of a natural connection with, and you can look out for those people. A key point here is to invest in the time where authentic conversation truly happens: coffee breaks between sessions, lunch dates, and at over-night conferences, late night lobby conversations. Either way you opt to expand your business, be intentional about concluding the conversation with a question that positions you to continue the relationship. Something as simple as “How can I support you?” is a great way to quickly assess how you can contribute to one another’s business ventures. As JFK said, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and you’ll be showing that you hold that ideal as a core value.

Define your action steps.

Evernote, legal pads, binders, and iPhone Notes. Even my lists need lists, so being at an event can be overwhelming for a task-oriented mind! If you can separate tasks from learnings while note taking, you’ll leave the event with clear, manageable action steps. I learned this tip from a business coach: grab a spiral bound set of notecards at your next grocery store run for your upcoming conference or workshop. As you take notes your “normal” way—whether it’s typing Google docs or writing long-hand—you can whip out your spiral bound notecards and jot down specific call-to-actions to tackle after the event.

Follow through after.

Finally, back in your office or on the plane, begin drafting follow up emails to business conversations initiated at the event. Stay away from “I’d love to keep in touch” communication, and opt for specifics instead. Identify the skill set you can leverage to support someone and vice versa. Maybe it’s recommending a relevant blog post or podcast or perhaps it’s suggesting a new service or free content upgrade you’ve offered. And don’t be afraid to ask these connections for their wisdom or services. Stay in touch every few months by sending helpful posts, articles and podcasts, and you’ll be top of mind for him or her, too.

Introvert or extrovert, events are both extremely helpful and overwhelming for us all. What are your go-to tips when you’re attending workshops and conferences?
Inspired by this article and looking for action-oriented “next steps” as you prepare for your upcoming event? We thought that may be the case.

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Ashlyn S. Carter

Copywriter & Storytelling Strategist, Ashlyn Writes

Ashlyn has helped clients like Delta Air Lines, Chick-fil-A, Orkin, and Woodruff Arts Center tell their stories at full-service communications firm Jackson Spalding — and then worked as publicist and PR manager branding for celebrity chef Ford Fry and his team of 11 restaurants. She now puts a decade of media and journalism experience to work as a freelance writer for creatives.

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