Five Essentials for Successful Conference Networking
When someone says “networking,” does it make you want to run and hide under the hotel chair? Conferences are the best place for writers to meet authors, editors, agents, and other industry pros. In order to make real connections and lasting impressions, you need to boost your networking skills. Follow these easy guidelines and you’ll quickly become a networking pro, no hiding needed!
Use Name Gimmicks
This may sound basic, but how many times has someone told you their name and you instantly forget? You didn’t tell your brain to keep that information. Whoops. The first thing to do when someone says their name is to create a memory gimmick for your brain. Connect the person’s name with something they’re wearing or perhaps a physical feature. For example, Curly Hair Carrie or Red Shirt Roger. Repeat the name gimmick several times in your mind. Then be sure to say the person’s name immediately in the conversation. “So, Roger, what do you like to write?” Say it again at the end of the conversation, too. “It was great meeting you, Roger.” Multiple name use not only helps store the information in your long-term memory, it also makes the person feel a positive connection and that you truly were listening.
People generally enjoy talking about themselves. Start the conversation by asking a question such as “How long have you been writing?” or “What are you working on now?” Then ask follow-up questions after. The trick is to create a question trail. Get onto a topic where you can generate several follow-up questions. I used this strategy recently with an editor from MacMillin. I had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with her for 45 minutes. I asked if she had any plans for the summer and she mentioned rock climbing. I questioned about equipment, good locations, strategy and so on. She enjoyed talking about her hobby and I loved hearing about something new. Try to get onto a subject you find genuinely interesting or that you both have in common. If you truly enjoy the conversation, you won’t even notice you are networking.
Have Business Cards Ready
When the conversation is closing, have a business card at the ready. Tell the person you enjoyed talking with them and you’d love to stay in touch, then hand them your business card. If you don’t already have one, you can order some for a decent price from Moo Cards, Vista Print, or Staples. Make sure to have the basics on your card: name, phone number, email, website, and social media. If you want to get fancy you can add a custom logo, book cover, or headshot. Keep it simple—a cluttered business card looks unprofessional. When the person hands you theirs, jot a quick note about where you met them to remind yourself later. Be sure to follow up after the conference and maintain the connection.
Don’t Skip Social Events...or the Bar
No, I’m not recommending alcohol, but you should stop by the hotel bar to see who’s hanging out there. Oftentimes, people take breaks and grab a drink. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and possibly get one-on-one time with industry professionals. Another place to chat and connect is at conference social events. People are more laid back and open to talk. There are also larger blocks of available time at social events and frequently there is a theme to discuss.
Don’t Push It
While it’s important to market yourself, you want to do it tactfully. There’s an etiquette with industry professionals. Don’t force your book or manuscript when it isn’t requested or expected. It puts the person in an awkward position. They may not have the time or interest in looking at your work but don’t want to seem impolite. The best course of action is to talk with the professional, get their business card, and ask if you can email it to them.
If you follow these tips, you’ll make many positive impressions and build the foundation for genuine, lasting connections. Make sure you’re focusing on the other person by asking questions and not dominating the conversation. Once you’ve shown interest in the person, they’ll reciprocate and ask questions about you. Remember to make it fun and you’ll find that networking is a piece of cake.
Arielle Haughee is a multiple award-winning author and the owner of Orange Blossom Publishing. She is an editor, writing coach, publishing consultant, and contest judge. She is the author of The Complete Revision Workbook for Writers and the children’s book Grumbler.