Conferences are not for the faint of heart, especially a conference the size and scope of Content Marketing World — 3,600 marketers from 72 countries all descending on 11 keynoters, 208 speakers, and 96 breakout sessions over four days in Cleveland, Ohio.
In two words: mind blowing. In three: mind blowingly terrifying.
If you’re like me, the thought of starting meaningful conversations in a sea of thousands of faces is paralyzing. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert … getting the absolute most out of any conference is a challenge. Your inner voice is probably asking: “Who should I talk to? What should I say? Where should I go? How should I follow up?”
To answer those questions, I went to the source: you.
That’s right. Instead of the same old post-conference round-up or well-meaning advice from headliners on how to connect at a conference, my partner in crime, Nadya Khoja, and I asked one question of as many people as we could at #CMWorld:
“What’s your single best networking tip at a conference like #CMWorld?”
What follows are 55 responses from keynoters, speakers, staff, and (above all) you, my fellow attendees. Think of this as our digital love letter to the most amazing and brave content marketers in the world. In fact, if you’d like a full behind-the-scenes look at how all of this came together — including how we got 26 of CMWorld’s headliners to contribute to a pre-conference post, a one-on-one sit down with Joe Pulizzi during the event, and all the videos previewed below — check out How to Attend a Marketing Conference and Take It Over … Even If You’re Not a Speaker.
However, before we jump in, let me recommend two tools I’ve found invaluable to stay current and connected with all the amazing people I met.
2 tools for post-conference networking
Leadfeeder connects your site’s Google Analytics with your visitors’ social profiles so that you can see exactly who visits your site along with the specific content pages they browsed, when, and for how long. Once you put a face to your faceless guest, you can assign them to a social outreach campaign via Leadfeeder’s CRM as well as automate, customize, and measure the results. This is a great tool to find out how many of those business cards you handed out at a conference led to an online visit and then to follow up with targeted content.
ContentMarketer.io’s Connector lets you upload a CSV file or manually enter contacts into what’s essentially a stripped-down CRM. You can set up and personalize outreach emails to automate, track, and test your follow-up. It includes email templates that you can customize, like this one I tweaked for the people in this article:
But enough about tools and tactics. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Image source: Venngage
Eternal networking truths
Over 50 tips is a lot of insight to take in all at once. Let’s bring all of it together into three eternal truths of networking like a Jedi would.
1. Everybody’s afraid
You are not alone in your fear, your trepidation, and your anxiety. No matter how much you feel like an outsider, we’re all in the same big, uncomfortable, sweaty boat.
2. Everybody’s human
Whether the person you’re thinking about walking up to is another attendee, a breakout speaker, or even a keynoter, at the end of the day they’re flesh and blood just like you. Don’t let them intimidate you, because …
3. Everybody’s nice
OK, so maybe that’s not true of everyone. But it’s true of the people who are worth meeting. The ultimate goal of any conference — as so many of the 55 tips indicate — is to learn, grow, and connect. As long as you’re a part of that process, then you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Anyone who doesn’t greet you with a smile, that’s on them … the jerks.
At the risk of loading you up with one more truth, remember the words of my compadre Nadya Khoja: “No relationship is as valuable as one that has been solidified in person. When someone has met you and remembers your face, there is a much better chance that they will choose to open your email over the hundreds of faceless contacts in their inbox.”
And just in case you were looking to connect retroactively, here are all 55 tips in tweetable lengths with each person’s handle. Enjoy.
- Make yourself recognizable. Use a silly hat, like I do. And if you’re really a smart guy, use the company’s branding: neon orange: @simon_geisler (Simon Geisler)
- To meet someone you follow, wait for a natural break when they’re not busy and have a few topics you know they’re interested in: @annawyunker (Anna W. Yunker)
- When you’re in the main sessions and breakouts, don’t just look down at your tech. Turn around and say, “hi.”: @eballball (Elaine Ball)
- After you meet someone, immediately look them up on LinkedIn. You’ll always find some contacts in common: @crestodina (Andy Crestodina)
- Keep the momentum going … I took it a step beyond just email & created a Slack community to keep the (#CMWorld) networking going: @berrakbiz (Berrak Sarikaya)
- When you see someone, and you’re in a group … look at them, reach out, say hi, and have them join your group: @billcush (Bill Cushard)
- Go to the FRONT row for the most communicative people! That’s where the action is: @loesvandokkum
- Start a running group. Day 1: 8 a.m. Day 2: 6 a.m. Day 3: 5 a.m. That’ll help you connect on a human level: @dominikgrau (Dominik Grau)
- Come over. Say hi. Have a nice conversation. We’ll be besties: @annhandley (Ann Handley)
- Don’t focus too much on work, otherwise it’ll start feeling stressful: @robbyhaber (Rob Haber)
- There will be somebody who’s there for the first time – like me – and they are longing for someone to just engage them in a conversation: Samantha Budna-Banner
- Create something – a brand, content, whatever you can that makes people want to come to you so that you don’t have to go and network: @randfish (Rand Fishkin)
- Be real. Be interested. Be genuinely psyched to hear about the other person’s passions. Curiosity sparks collaboration: @niccimicco (Nicci Micco)
- Don’t tell anything about you unless they ask because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care: @Rpfloydian (Randy Bernard)
- Look for empty spots at tables during meals and just jump in! @michelelinn (Michele Linn)
- If you see an interesting post on social media at a conference, reply to it and get a conversation going: @SteveGoyer (Steve Goyer)
- Don’t treat it like networking. Ask more questions than they do and be interested not interesting: @jayacunzo (Jay Acunzo)
- Don’t try to inspire. Let everyone know who inspires you: @eksays (Ehsan Khodarahmi)
- Walk around alone. Don’t stay in your comfortable clique: @debusiness (Shannon Waldschmidt)
- Make a statement. Wear some flair. It gives people an opportunity to come up and talk to you: @brandlovellc (Lisa Dougherty)
- Everyone is as scared as you are. When people are scared they drink … so drink: @joelazauskas (Joe Lazauskas)
- Use the conf’s app to not only connect with speakers, but attendees as well … esp. on LinkedIn: @paulamonroy (Paula Monroy)
- Smile so much that you feel a little awkward about it. It comes across as welcoming … not scary: @beckyws (Becky Brooks)
- Use the app from the conf., not just general social media. This adds to the feeling of being an insider with everyone else: @mikemyers614 (Mike Meyers)
- Make eye-contact, smile, and you’re in: @amandasubler (Amanda Subler)
- Ask people if they need a drink. SUPER easy opener – and nice: @brennermichael (Michael Brenner)
- Make plans to connect with the people you want to see there BEFORE you go. Set a date and time: @lisamloeffler (Lisa Loeffler)
- Bring something to share that’s from your hometown: you can’t beat chocolate: @kdhungerford (Kelly Hungerford)
- Ask everybody in a new conversation about themselves first—not just to be a good person, but to qualify them before you pitch: @keeganforte (Keegan Vance Forte)
- Go for compliments and eye contact … and do it over food or coffee. Make it natural: @zarinas1 (Zarina Stanik)
- When you really want a speaker’s attention, be the last person to talk to them: @sixpeppers (Derric Haynie)
- At the end of every evening, email the people you met that day. It will help cement you in their minds: @tylerlogtenberg (Tyler Logtenberg)
- Walk up and just make an observation … the first thing that comes to mind. It’s OK to be authentically odd: oddthentic!: @cd_houston (DM Houston)
- Sit next to somebody during everything. Find and fill empty seats instead of going to the back of the room where there’s space: @kirkmanley (Kirk Manley)
- Always go to the parties, esp. the late night parties. People open up after a martini … or three: @davidreimherr (David Reimherr)
- Share what might sound like trivial things via the conf. app and hashtags. It starts conversations and that’s what we’re going for: @jshellenberger (Justin Shellenberger)
- Reach out to someone alone and intro them to someone else, a good friend or just someone you happened to meet five minutes ago: @kyleakerman (Kyle Akerman)
- Follow people before conf. so you can see the content they create and start building a relationship. Then connect face to face: @katevolman (Kate Volman)
- Repeat people’s names once you meet them: @orbiteers (Amanda Gant)
- Know your networking metrics. It’s not about how many cards you collect; it’s who you talk to and connect with after: @writerstryker (Ashley Stryker)
- Always think of what you can offer someone else. Offer them an opportunity … not another request: @SusanCMoeller (Susan Moeller)
- Don’t be shy. Talk to people you don’t know even if they don’t talk to you first. Sounds obvious. Not always easy. Always worth it: @carmenhill (Carmen Hill)
- Take a pic of business cards right then. Can’t count how many times I lost or laundered cards and racked my brain to remember names: @crosslinc (David Anthony)
- Look up people on Twitter. See who you have in common. Ask for intro. Chat prior to the event so it feels more like a new friend: @sferika (Erika Heald)
- Find out something personal about the person you’re going to talk to and use that instead of their day job … surprise them: @billconnolly (Billy Connolly)
- Make sure you check out people’s bios. Find one thing you can connect with them over. Talk to them. Tweet to them. Whoohoo!: @marismith (Mari Smith)
- I like to show up to sessions early and find a seat next to someone who looks receptive to conversation: @mo_flow (Marlene Oliveira)
- Networking can feel like a sea of gimme, gimme, GIMME! Approach people from the perspective of how you can help them: @maureenonpoint (Maureen Jann)
- Use your unique personality as your bridge to connecting with others; you might find something cool in common: @bhrome (Ben H. Rome)
- Pretty much everyone you’re looking to talk to is probably looking to talk to somebody too. Make the first move: @jeremybednarski (Jeremy Bednarski)
- On the conf. app I asked, “Anyone in the corporate-wellness space? Let me know.” And they did: @drkchristie (Kevin Christie)
- Keep in mind that everyone around you is there for the same reasons: to learn and connect. Use that to get the ball rolling: @jasonschemmel (Jason Schemmel)
- Go in asking “what can I give,” not “what can I get?” That small change takes the pressure off you to meet the “right” people: @iconiContent (Aaron Orendorff)
- Ask people if they’re going to the parties. If they say no, get their drink tickets. You just made two friends right there: @nadyakhoja (Nadya Khoja)
And from the godfather himself …
- Follow the conference hashtag and answer people’s simple questions honestly and humanly and you’re gonna be a rockstar: @joepulizzi (Joe Pulizzi)
Until next year, stay awesome #CMWorld.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute