For those who, like me, attend conferences and trade shows often, networking can become mundane. We get used to doing the same thing over and over, from quick chats between meetings in designated coffee areas to huge parties thrown by conference sponsors at local nightclubs. And each morning, we get up and do it all over again.
Due to the repetitious nature of conferences, I don’t enjoy them as much as I used to, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.
Over the past six months, I’ve changed up my routine to make conference networking something I actually enjoy. With just a little bit of planning, I have been able to change my perception about networking – and, as a result, I now get 10 times more of a return out of every conference I attend.
Here are some of the ways you can make this happen, too:
1. Throw a Small Meet-Up
Renting out a bar or restaurant – or even a hotel room – to host a conference meet-up can be quite expensive, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a return on this particular investment.
However, you can achieve many of the same goals of hosting a conference event – without the cost – by hosting a meet-up. Simply call a few local bars and restaurants and ask for some specials on food and drinks (don’t ask to reserve a space). Then, create an event on Facebook or Eventbrite and spread the word via relevant social channels. Keep the meet-up informal and limit it to about 20-30 people. This will give you the right setting for establishing deeper connections – and your reputation won’t suffer if things don’t go as well as you’d like them to.
2. Hit the Hotel Bar
Every conference has a nearby watering hole or two. Pick the closest one and belly up to the bar. As attendees come and go, you will have an easy opportunity to strike up a conversation.
Remember, though, that you are at the bar for business. Don’t go overboard with the booze.
3. Go ‘Hashtag Hunting’
The key to conference hashtag use isn’t in what you tweet, but rather what you observe being tweeted. Scan conference hashtags often, specifically searching for small gatherings at nearby restaurants, bars, and attractions. Searching through conference hashtags can lead you to more networking opportunities, including small meet-ups, unpublicized events, and even casual conversations with conference attendees whom you wouldn’t otherwise have met.
4. Leave Your Lanyard On
As long as you are near the conference, you should have your lanyard and/or conference badge on. Though it’s slightly embarrassing (like leaving stickers on new jeans), rocking your lanyard will allow other attendees to easily identify you, and that can lead to some easy networking opportunities – like a quick chat while you wait in line at Starbucks or an exchange of elevator pitches in an actual elevator!
5. Read Non-Verbal Cues
Not everyone at a conference is looking to connect. That being said, it is usually pretty easy to find people who are looking to network just by paying attention to their posture. How are they standing, and who are they standing with? These are important non-verbal cues. Observing these cues might help you locate some hidden-in-plain-sight networking opportunities.
Networking isn’t always easy or fun, but hopefully the tips outlined above will add some flavor to your typical routine – and maybe even yield new business!
A version of this article originally appeared on BusinessCollective.
John Rampton is the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Due, a free online invoicing company that specializes in helping businesses bill their clients easily online. You can connect with him on Twitter: @johnrampton.