Networking is one of the most important aspects of attending any business conference, and WBENC’s National Conference & Business Fair (NCBF) has multiple ways to engage. You can meet not just potential clients, but also mentors and collaborators. For some people, though, networking can feel more like a draining chore than an exciting opportunity. Here’s how to pace yourself—and take the stress out of networking.
Define Goals Ahead of Time
Networking can be intimidating in part because there are so many new people. Introverts often feel best when they can connect deeply with a few people. Imagine walking into a room of a hundred people and feeling like you “should” have a meaningful conversation with all of them!
Focusing on quality of connection instead of quantity can make networking feel more manageable. Start by asking yourself: “What goal you’d like to achieve through networking?” Are you hoping for potential client leads in a particular industry? Is your business expanding to partner with others and provide combined service packages? Imagine and spend time visioning an ideal new connection.
At the networking event, don’t worry about collecting a stack of cards. Instead, aim to find someone who fits the goal you outlined earlier. Spending an hour having three conversations with people who match well with your business is just as valuable as coming away with 20 tentative connections from working the room.
Take Care of Yourself Mentally and Physically
At a multi-day conference, all but the most outgoing social butterfly will need a break at some point. Be realistic, and work healthy boundaries into your strategy for success. We’d love to be able to stand for hours and keep a magnetic smile on our faces as we talk about our business. But that might not be a reality for everyone.
Networking is hard, and it can feel even harder when dealing with fatigue, food sensitivities, physical disabilities, and—in the case of some women entrepreneurs—pregnancy! Be strategic. Pick networking meetings where you’ll be able to sit down. Bring a water bottle or tuck a snack in your purse. It’s also okay to ask the organizer to help you find a chair or other accommodation you may need. And don’t be afraid to leave your heels at home!
If you have anxiety, it’s especially important to give yourself mental permission to manage your time at your own pace. Check out the itinerary when you first arrive. Circle your top events then reassess what’s left. When is the best time for you to skip out for an hour? It’s okay to miss one program if it means you’ll be fresh for a later event that’s more important for your business.
Find a Wingwoman
If you’ve established goals, you might know who you want to talk to before you even enter the room. A speaker may be perfectly aligned to advise you on your company’s best next step. At a multi-day conference, you may hear about someone who could be a great partner for a business venture. But maybe you’re not comfortable making a beeline for that person.
Asking someone to make an introduction for you helps you in several ways. You’ve got another person to break the ice. A third party may even put a spin on your elevator speech that you never thought of!
Ask your fellow WBEs, your Regional Partner Organization leader—or even the 2016 Host Committee members—to make introductions to the right people. You might have the rapport to jump in if you can ride a friendly wingwoman’s coattails for the first 10 minutes or until you find your footing.
As with anything in business, it’s nice to be able to reciprocate a favor. If someone is gracious enough to be your networking buddy, maybe you can fill her in on the best points from a panel discussion she missed or make connections for her. At minimum, connect via Twitter or LinkedIn and keep her in mind in case you can send her a referral later.
For more advice, stories, and tips on how to leverage the WBENC Network, stay tuned for the upcoming Let’s Chat with 2016 Host Committee Members Charlotte Baker, Susie Galyardt, and Courtney Davis-Herbert.