Tips on How to Network at the Forum - for Those Who Hate Networking

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Sixteen. That’s the number of times I’ve attended InterAction’s Forum. Yes, you read that correctly. And after all these years, I still think there are ways I can better maximize this tremendous networking opportunity. I am an extrovert, but I’ll be the first to admit that I still have anxiety when it comes to networking at the Forum. Like most people, it doesn’t come easily to me. There is this pressure that I must meet people. And they must be the “right people.” The first thing you must understand is that networking is relationship building. It’s about finding new friends, but in a professional context.

Regardless of how you feel about it, there are a set of principles that I believe will help you become a successful networker. They are the core values to any budding relationship:

Be sincere. Be genuine. Ask questions. Listen. Respect other’s experiences. Ask more questions. Repeat.

And here are a few tips that will help you at InterAction’s Forum: 

1. Prepare your conference strategy.

As most of us know, conferences can be exhausting – especially if you plan to attend for the full three days of the Forum. Give yourself time to recharge by finding downtime during the conference. If you know that you want to make it to an evening reception, find a break during the day where you aren’t “on” or soaking in information in a workshop session. Don’t try to attend everything or you might burn out. Plan your day selectively, based on your interests, goals (“I want to meet 20 new people” or “I want to reconnect and have coffee with five old colleagues or friends”), and energy level for meeting new people

2. Connect with participants online.

If you can’t do it before the conference, try to carve away time to see who else is attending the conference through the Forum website. Look at the list of speakers. Find colleagues on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media. When you meet someone, make sure you connect with the person online right away, while your meeting is fresh in their memory. Otherwise, either party is likely to forget after the conference. What was the name of that person I met at that workshop on transparency? I store notes on my phone if I can’t find them online.

3. Don’t sit with your colleagues during meals.

This is a tough one, as it forces many out of their comfort zone. If you don’t want to go solo, then invite one other colleague to join you. But just one. Any more than one makes it too tempting to just talk amongst yourselves. Make a pact in advance that you will both make a point of talking to people you don’t know at your table. The Gala is a great place to meet new people in a more relaxed, festive environment.

4. Find the connectors. You know who these people are.

They are the ones that love introducing and connecting people. Seek those people out. If you don’t know where to look, refer to the next tip. That’s where they will be. Trust me. I self-identify as a connector. If you can’t still seem to find one, come find me.

5. Attend the happy hour receptions.

We all know that free food and drinks make people happy. When people are happy, they are more likely to mingle. Ok, the glass of wine probably helps.

6. Learn how to excuse yourself gracefully.

This may sound selfish, but there may be times when someone you are talking with turns out to be someone that you don’t want to connect with. Or maybe that person doesn’t seem interested in talking to you. Don’t take it personally, it happens. You have limited time and want to be efficient. In either case, it’s important to recognize those non-verbal cues of when someone has lost interest in the conversation. Are they looking at their phone without an apology? Do they seem to be scanning the room while you are talking? Are their answers to your questions getting shorter and shorter? Did they stand up if they had been sitting down? If so, how do you exit politely? I was always taught that excusing yourself to the bathroom is the easiest way to diffuse an awkward situation. Or bring in someone else into the conversation and then excuse yourself.  It’s also as easy as saying, “It was so nice to talking with you, [insert name]. I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference and maybe we will run into each other again.”

7. Pay it forward.

This is the basic principle of giving. This is something you can do long after the Forum is over. Adam Rifkin coined the idea of the “five minute favor.” Here’s how it works: “Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media…do something that’s not for yourself, every single day.” And the key is to not expect anything in return. I believe that over time, giving small “five minute favors” will add up over time. And then one day, voila, a five minute favor shows up in your life.

Oh and remember: Be sincere. Be genuine. Ask questions. Listen. Respect other’s experiences. Ask more questions. Repeat.

I hope to meet you at the Forum. If you reach your networking goals, don’t forget to reward yourself. Maybe a new outfit for work!

Do you have other tips that have worked for you? As a long time veteran of the Forum, I am always looking for creative ideas. Feel free to send me an email.

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a month-long series from InterAction staff, highlighting the various opportunities Forum offers to participants.

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