12 hacks for meeting lots of people at conferences

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last posted – pneumonia can really stall your blog if you’re the only writer. #StartupProblems seems like the most relevant channel to post this on.

Now that I’ve recovered, I’m itching to talk to people in a big way. HubSpot’s famous Inbound 2015 conference starts in less than two weeks, and I can’t wait to make new friends with more marketers, sales professionals, founders, and executives.

In the spirit of the conference, I wanted to share with you 12 of my own conference hacks for meeting lots of people:

1. Ask for the attendee list.

It’s always good to know who’s attending the conference before you go. There might be very specific people and companies that you want to connect with. You’ll increase your odds significantly if you know who you’re looking for.

The speaker and sponsor list is almost always available on the conference website. However, the official attendee list is often limited to organizers and sponsors.

You may not get it, but it never hurts to ask the organizers or sponsors for the list. If they don’t give you a copy, you can always ask for the makeup of the attendees. Brochures for sponsorship packages also contain high-level attendee information. While not an official attendee list, you can sometimes find a Facebook event or group that you can join for the conference. It’s just another way to find out who’s going

2. Tweet about the conference before you go.

Big conferences have official hashtags. Organizers, speakers, sponsors, and other attendees will be tweeting about the conference leading up to it.

This isn’t just another way to build your own attendee list, it’s also a great opportunity to learn more about the conference and surrounding events. You may find unofficial meetups that are worthwhile for you to attend.

3. Contact other attendees before you go.

Whether it’s email, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, the conference is the perfect excuse to contact someone that you want to meet because you’ll both be there.

You can send a simple, genuine introduction email. Just let the other party know that you’re attending and would love to chat. Even if they’re unavailable to meet at the conference, you can always schedule a call for a later date. But, the conference is your gateway to that initial contact!

4. Throw your own event.

If a sponsorship opportunity is unavailable or unaffordable, consider throwing your own event. Just don’t step on the organizer’s toes while doing it! Unless you’re attending a hackathon, most conferences don’t run for 24 hours straight.

Here’s how you can run your own event:

  1. Decide on a budget.
  2. Call the bars and restaurants located near the conference.
  3. Ask them how much it would cost to host 100 people.
  4. Build a super-targeted invite list from your attendee list.
  5. Set up an event on Eventbrite.
  6. Email your list with an invite to the event.
  7. Give away some swag!

Always make sure that you can justify the ROI on running an event like this before proceeding. It can get very expensive and your money might be better used elsewhere.

5. Stand out from the crowd.

More people will approach you if you can dress in a way that captures attention. I wear bright colours, and sport a new-age watch, which gives others an excuse to chat with me.

If you have your own booth, you can set up gimmicks to attract more visitors. Some examples of gimmicks include giving out cookies, running a photo booth, or having a game that attendees can play.

6. Split up and work the room.

Don’t wait for others to come to you! Put yourself out there to meet new people. There are always shy people waiting for someone to approach them.

If you’re attending the conference with other co-workers, split up to cover more ground. Attend different speaker sessions if more than one is going on. You can compare notes later.

7. Ask others what they do first.

Please don’t be that person that only talks about themselves! Similar to content marketing 101, you need to provide value. Take a genuine interest in the other attendees. Learn about:

  1. who they are,
  2. where they’re from,
  3. what they do,
  4. which company they work for, and
  5. why they’re attending the conference.

When you do end up talking about yourself, this information will provide you with more content for a more meaningful conversation.

8. Practice your pitch.

Successful networkers can explain what they do in one sentence. This can be very difficult. My best tip is to think about the core benefit you’re offering:

“We inspire writers, and use AI to help companies write targeted content more efficiently.”

– the one sentence Wriber pitch

You want to have as many productive conversations as possible. The shorter and more to-the-point your pitch is, the more you ensure your conversations aren’t full of fluff.

9. Bring marketing collateral.

Depending on your goals, prepare the necessary visual aids in advance of the conference. Here’s a short list of what you may consider bringing:

  1. Business cards
  2. Sales sheets
  3. Product brochures
  4. Product demos (bring an iPad!)
  5. Resumes
  6. Portfolios
  7. Press kit

10. Look for after parties.

Ask the other attendees if they know of any other events happening after the conference. Other events are a great way to expand your time, especially if you’re not from the area.

Sponsors almost always have more than one representative attending, and might be going out for nights on the town. Make friends and see if you can join in!

11. Play the matchmaker game.

If you’ve done a good job at listening to other attendees, you can help them connect with each other. For instance, you might find a designer looking for work and a digital agency looking for potential hires. You can be the matchmaker! People are likely to return the favour if they’re able to.

Don’t be afraid to be an active participant. Ask others if they know of any obvious connections. If you’re attending the conference with other colleagues, talk to them beforehand and exchange introductions during and after the conference.

12. Contact attendees after the conference.

Follow up on the business cards you’ve collected from other attendees. Send them an email and add them on LinkedIn.

If you didn’t catch an attendee that you wanted to meet in person, you can still contact them after the conference. Maybe you saw them live tweeting the event? The conference itself is still a valid icebreaker! You can always set up a call with them if you’re in different locations.