Conference Tips: How to network at Le Web

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This is a guest post by Colette Ballou, founder of Ballou PR.

I beat this drum all year long: conferences are awkward situations. You want to make the most of your time – chances are that you paid not only for the entrance fee, but also for the flight and the hotel. But why do we fail to make meaningful connections at conferences? Because we forget the perspective of the very people we are trying to connect with.

Conferences are excellent opportunities to further your business goals, be it funding, partnerships, sales, coverage by the media, or an invitation to speak. So have these clearly in mind when approaching each person. Know what you need to get from that conversation, and realize that you’re likely not going to get it right there. But you can get yourself further down the line with an invitation to connect later.

Here are Ballou PR’s Conference Tips, revised and updated for LeWeb’11:

▪ It’s very important not to be the creepy lurking person. Very.

▪ Be thoughtful of speakers, VCs and journalists, they get leapt upon at conferences. Say your piece, then let them be.

▪ Get the business card. Give yours. Connect on your favourite social network, or even send an email afterwards.

▪ Always re-introduce yourself to people. Never say “Do you remember me?” It puts the other person in a terrible position.

▪ When someone re-introduces themselves to you, don’t make them feel stupid or rude for possibly not remembering you. They are trying to help you. Don’t repay kindness by making them feel like an idiot.

▪ Don’t approach someone when they are in the middle of something, for example, when they are mobbed, trying to get off a stage, or trying to leave the venue.

▪ Please accept when the other person has to close the conversation. Make it easy for them and allow them to go.

▪ Think twice before touching anybody. It doesn’t create closeness or confidence where there was none; most times, it just is creepy and off-putting.

▪ Bring a wingman, or better yet, a wingwoman. They can make sure you get into and out of conversations smoothly, help you with names, etc.

▪ Building on the wingman concept: an introduction is gold. Get a mutual friend or colleague to introduce you – it’s more powerful.

▪ Watch the other person for cues, such as body language, on when to wrap things up. It’s polite and appreciated, and you will be remembered!

▪ Remember that the point is NOT to hog the other person’s time for an hour. The point is to be compelling and memorable.

▪ Have a clear “ask” if you are trying to speak to someone, and get to the point. Don’t just say, “We should have coffee.”

▪ Ensure you use things to help you remember who you’ve met and when. It can be a notebook, or a service like Evernote (full disclosure: Beloved Ballou PR client), whatever works for you and helps you get the most out of the events you attend

▪ A unique twist on the above – consider approaching with a “give” instead of an “ask” – “I’d be happy to give you feedback/introduce you to an angel/advise you on your Estonia strategy.” (big thanks & credit to @smarcelo of Care.com)