I know it feels like you’ve already put in weeks of hard work just to get here, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to slip into vacation mode – don’t let that hard work go to waste! You deserve a great conference and with the tips below, you’ll get it.

1. Dress for success

Yes it’s cheesy but here’s the secret: clothing and accessories are great icebreakers. If you’re shy, a statement necklace, bold tie, or brightly colored shoes give other people an opportunity to approach you – I’ve made more networking connections from people commenting on my shoes than I would care to admit to my boss.

2. Show up early

There is nothing worse than being the only person in the room without a seat (especially in smaller sessions or networking dinners). Just as bad is arriving late to a session, and interrupting both the speaker and the audience as you try to crawl over people and their personal belongings on your journey to one of the three remaining empty seats (why are they always front and center?!). Arriving early can also help with your networking goals giving you an opportunity to chat up your neighbor by asking them about the upcoming session or speaker.

3. Use social media to connect

This is one of the best ways to reach out to a speaker and offer them a genuine compliment. Tweeting during a session is also a great way to connect with other attendees who are tweeting as well – you’ve already got something in common! Just make sure that you follow through and introduce yourself in person when the opportunity presents itself (although social media is a wonderful segue to face-to-face connections it’s not meant to replace them).

4. Get strategic with your business cards

The exchange of business cards is a time-honored tradition at networking events and if not handled properly it’s also a colossal waste of time. If you are truly interested in following up with a new connection, ask for their business card rather than just handing over yours. Having their card puts you in control of establishing the next point of contact. It’s also a good idea to discreetly jot a few notes on the back of their card; you’ll thank yourself later when you’re struggling to remember exactly who someone is or what you talked about.

5. Sign up for, and attend networking events

The absolute best way to connect with other attendees is during scheduled “downtime”. The biggest mistake you can make is not attending an event because you don’t want to go alone. Think about it – are you really the only person at this whole conference who travelled there by yourself? NO! This means there are tons of people who will be brave enough to attend and will be looking for someone (just like you) who is also travelling alone to chat with. Some of my best connections were made when I was flying solo, – you just have to show up and smile. And if you are lucky enough to be travelling with a larger group, keep an eye out for lone rangers and take the opportunity to make them feel welcome.

6. Give yourself a break

Allow yourself to skip a session and re-charge. If you’re overwhelmed by crowds then this is also a good time to visit the exhibiter hall – you’ll get the vendors’ undivided attention while avoiding the crowds.

7. Don’t overlook the vendor hall

I know this sounds like a plug to come visit me at the iWave booth the next time we’re exhibiting, but seriously, when you consider the combined experience of the people hosting these booths, there is a wealth of information available to you. Take the opportunity to ask questions, challenge a vendor’s offering, or ask for advice – that’s why we’re there (handing out free stuff and constantly smiling is secondary).

And speaking of smiling, you should be smiling right now because you’ve survived several jam-packed days of networking and education. Seems like the perfect time to put your feet up and congratulate yourself on a job well done, right? Not quite! Next week I’m covering conference follow up – the final piece to getting more out of your next conference.

What are your conference survival tips?

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About the author: Megan McMillan is one of iWave’s Marketing Managers.

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