How to network at large conferences like #SXSW

March 11, 2012

Networking is a key part of growing a business whether you work for a big company, have a small business or are just getting your startup off the ground. But big conferences might seem a little daunting if you’re not meeting new folks at events on a regular basis. Having spent the last few days here at SXSW we thought we’d share some of the tips we’ve learned:

1. Show your flare

If you’re not 7 feet tall and don’t have purple hair it’s really difficult to stand out in a crowd of 35,000 people! Our resident Head of Magic and pro networker Saul Colt has coined some creative ways to make sure people don’t forget him.  At conferences Saul wears a pair of eye-catching pants, red eye glasses and sometimes brings a mime with him .  Now, Saul’s tactics might be a little extreme for most people but you can try some variations, how about wearing a rose on your collar, or having a branded pair of shoes, or wearing a hat?  It will catch people’s eye, they’ll ask questions and they will remember you!

2. Be a matchmaker and build trust

At a large conference, you’re going to meet a lot of people.  Not all of these people are going to be a great fit for your company and goals.  Instead of walking around with your head down honing in on only a select group of people, introduce yourself to everyone and if the person isn’t a good fit for you introduce them to someone in your network who they could possibly work with.  This won’t be instantly useful, but now this person has the opportunity to return the favor and introduce you to someone in their network down the road.

3.  Do your homework

Don’t go into any event blind.  What’s the purpose of the event? What kind of people will be there? What are their interests? Do your research before the event so you have basic talking points to get conversation going.  If you have things to say and stories to tell, people will find you interesting and it’ll help build a relationship.

4.  Make notes

With the sheer volume of people you’ll meet, it’s impossible to remember everybody and what they do.  Be prepared.  Bring a pen and notebook with you, trust us – it’s not cheating! Remember something unique about people, do they like the color purple? Do they have a jack Russell terrier? Are they a talented accordian player? Write down all of these nuggets that you learn (as well as what they do and where they work).  Not only will this jog your memory when following up, but it’s nice to mention these tidbits in your follow-up emails because it builds trust and shows the person that you were paying attention!

These are just a few things that we’ve learned along the way and have helped us be effective networkers, do you have any advice you can share? Leave a comment below!

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