Your company invested a lot of money in your tickets and travel so you can experience an amazing conference! Make the most of this tremendous opportunity!

1  Arrive prepared. You remembered your business cards, right? Don’t leave them in the hotel room! And don’t tell people you forgot them. If you have cards on you but don’t want to give one to the person asking, say “Why do you want my card?” Don’t lie and look unprepared. If you do forget your cards, something like “I’ve run out, give me yours and I’ll email you my info” will suffice.

2  Follow up.  If you say you’re going to call them, call them. More people who tell me they’re going to call me don’t than actually do. If you’re not 100% sure you’re going to call them, don’t them you’ll call them! Also, the half life on a brief introduction at a conference where they meet dozens of people a day is very short. Literally 24-72 hours. Always call the next day, and leave a voice mail. Even better – call same day.

3  The shy go hungry.  A conference is no time to get all introverted on us! Use these tips to push yourself out of your comfort zone:

  • Stand, don’t sit. You’re much more approachable standing there.
  • Use a simple opener designed to both picque their curiosity while also expressing interest in them. “Hi, I’m Michael, I run conferences for a living. What do you do?”
  • Walk up to people standing alone. Like you, they are probably standing there thinking “Who can I talk to here?”
  • Walk up to small groups and stand there quietly. Remember the party rule – no talking until you’ve been there at least 1-2 minutes and have some idea of the topic you’ve interjected yourself into.
  • Make eye contact. This is so important. Stare at the bridge of their nose if direct eye on eye contact is too much at first.
  • Don’t judge people by their clothing, age, gender or skin color. Just walk up to the nearest person not in a conversation and try your opener.

4  Have a firm handshake. Work on your hand shake. Don’t grab my hand too early. Don’t be a limp fish. You’re here to move your company forward with confidence!

5  Have your 30 second commercial down pat. If you wake up cold at 3AM, you should be able to tell us, in 30 seconds or less, what your company does, with a closing question like “Is your company looking to increase sales?” or “Do you think a faster system might save your company money?”

6  Ask questions! The best way to show genuine interest in others is to ask questions. “Where are you from?” is an easy one. Have strategic questions at hand like “I don’t suppose a widget that would save your company time is something you and your team would want to hear more about?”

7  Book appointments on the spot. Everyone carries their calendar nowadays, it’s in their pocket. Pull out your phone and say “Do you just want to book a time to meet right now?” Use this only when the other person suggests you follow up or otherwise expresses interest.

8  Dig a little. If your opener about a better widget got them talking, then this is it, this is your moment! Wallow in it, don’t rush out. Ask who makes buying decisions in their office. If they say “I do” ask if there’s anyone else they consult, because there almost always is. Get that name! Ask about that person. Ask about the best way to follow up. Ask if the company is rolling out anything new. You won’t find a prospect at every networking opportunity. When you do, work it baby!

9  Keep moving. It’s human nature to find someone you like and hang with them all night. Don’t. You’re at work. If you’ve been talking to someone for 5 minutes, you should know if they’re a prospect or not. If they aren’t, politely move on.

10  Don’t drink alcohol. When you walk in, the first instinct for many of us is to go up to the bar. Don’t. Alcohol in your hands does not make you look more professional. Alcohol on your breath doesn’t make you smell professional. Alcohol in your system doesn’t sharpen your sales pitch. And a hangover tomorrow will hold you back. Alcohol is a depressant. Celebrate once you’re back home.

11  Go first. All of us in sales want referrals. I often try to give away a referral on the spot. I’ll ask “What’s a good customer look like for you?” and then I listen as best I can while racking my brain for someone I know who fits their ideal customer profile. If you give 10 people at the conference a referral, you’ll make 10 friends and get 3-7 referrals back. And it won’t cost you a dime.

12  Ask before you blast. We all want to grow our email blast lists. But don’t just add every email from every card you picked up. Ask people, and if they say yes, they want your blast emails, then add them.

One last thought:

Don’t be afraid to walk out of a lame presentation. Half the presentations will be below average. Even a really good one may turn out to be irrelevant to your company or your day to day duties. Walk out and reclaim the balance of the time. Grab a snack, look for someone with a similar badge, strike up a conversation.

A good conference can reap a good return on investment – if you work it.

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