Marketing: A Crash Course in Convention Networking

Written by Russell Trahan

Industry-specific conferences and conventions are a hallmark in business networking. As an attendee or a sponsored vendor, you will be inundated with a who’s who in your field—from the headlining heavyweights delivering keynotes and breakout sessions to the newcomers looking to create a name and garner beneficial connections.

The chaos of the convention floor can prove a sensory overload for the experienced and first-timers alike. For that reason, before you pack your bags for NRMLA’s national meeting next month, you need a crash course in Event networking 101 to maximize your potential for expanded company visibility and name recognition.

It’s one thing to work a room at a small industry function, but it’s another animal entirely when working the convention or conference floor, surrounded by hundreds of like-minded individuals. There are numerous avenues to consider when preparing to attend, but there are a few staples to put into action to certify that your experience is a valuable one and you come home with a lengthened client list or a number of helpful connections.

The Convention Begins Before Takeoff

No one likes plane flights. There are few things more uncomfortable than a cramped cabin, yearning for an extra inch of legroom, breathing recycled air for an inordinate amount of time. With discomfort on the horizon for a span of several hours, there is a tendency to double-down on the comfort one can control, which usually involves dress and demeanor. There’s no doubt that a loose-fitting outfit and an early-morning mimosa (or two) takes away some of the irritations of travel, but if you’re heading to the airport in shorts and a T-shirt with a head full of bubbly, you’re already starting your convention experience incorrectly.

The movie cliché involving a manic driver late to a meeting, weaving in and out of traffic, directing choice gestures at other drivers, just to arrive on time and realize the guy he cut off is the same guy to whom he’s delivering a sales presentation is exaggerated, but true. When you’re making your way through the airport, the convention is already underway. Every interaction should be treated as potential business, and this means dressing and acting as you would on the convention floor, and ensuring your conduct and attire remain professional—because you don’t know who is who.

Meetings have been scheduled in the airport Starbucks line, so while the inclination may be to travel in a relaxed fashion in comfortable attire, most working professionals will tell you they would trade a few unpleasant hours for a newly minted contract.

Exhibit A

For many companies, a large portion of their annual budget—as well as their time—is dedicated to their annual conference or convention. While investing in a sponsorship that involves a booth setup in the exhibit area can prove costly, it can also prove lucrative when the convention floor closes.

A booth gives your company a physical presence throughout the convention, and exponentially increases your visibility. Instead of conversations and business card exchanges, you have an area replete with banners, boards detailing your products or services, and of course, your carefully chosen convention representatives.

Curiosity will often bring attendees to your booth to see what you’re all about, and as such, you should guarantee that it is managed by your savviest customer service staff. Arrive early each day to make sure everything is in working order by the time the convention opens. Create a schedule with time blocks that correspond with the daily sessions so you can plan one-on-one meetings with any potential clients away from the hustle and bustle of the booth.

Augment Your Experience: Deliver a Workshop

A superb way to create some buzz around the convention is to deliver a presentation or workshop. One great aspect of these events is that there is constantly something going on, from quick informational sessions to multihour seminars—and often, organizers are looking for individuals to fill out their extensive schedules.

If this opportunity is available, it should be considered a must. Attendees can read about your expertise or services, but there is no better way to get your ideas to stick than to deliver a presentation. These workshops should be formatted as content-driven and informational, not as an in-person advertorial. Pique your audience’s interest by offering a solution to their problems or an approach to make their lives easier and your skills will prove impactful and potentially profitable. Use your platform as an in-person sales pitch and your efforts will go unnoticed.

The Convention Is Over, but Networking Has Just Begun

You return home exhausted from multiple days of nonstop presentations, long hours working the booth in the exhibit area and networking with your colleagues—but your work has only just begun.

Follow-up seems like a simple concept, but it’s astounding how many professionals believe their face-to-face efforts will be enough to immediately lead to a windfall of new business. Your mindset upon returning home should be one of “they met me, and they met my competition.” Separate yourself from the pack. Email your new contacts and convey how much you appreciated their time during such a busy event, and offer dates and times to continue your conversation. Twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring often results in a net-zero gain—proactivity is the key to new clientele.

NRMLA’s national meetings are a great way to network with your colleagues and better your business. The potential to craft longstanding relationships is boundless and will boost your standing as a company or individual. Networking is a cornerstone of business, and a NRMLA conference is the premier medium to make the most of your efforts.