March 28, 2008

How to Network at Conferences and Trade Shows: Mini-Guide

SUMMARY: You’ve just walked into a trade show or conference. You want to meet certain people, talk to them about your company, and get some leads. Where do you begin?

Here’s a mini-guide to networking, with plenty of tips from Scott Ginsberg, AKA “The Nametag Guy.” It includes:
-3 tips on preparation
-5 tips on what to do during the event
-3 tips on follow-up
-How to keep in touch
Contact information
Scott Ginsberg
7563 Oxford Dr. #2S
St. Louis, MO 63105


Scott Ginsberg is an author, speaker and the creator of, an online training network that teaches approachability. He says he’s been wearing a nametag every day for more than 2,700 consecutive days and has written a book about the experience titled: “HELLO, My name is Scott.” He has been featured on 20/20 and CNN and in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FastCompany.

Before the event

The first thing you need to do is relax. Ginsberg calls it adjusting to “an attitude of approachability.” You won’t seem approachable if you look stressed out.

Preparing is good. But don’t plan too much. Think about the three people you really want to meet. Write down their names or keep them in the back of your head. And remember, being a successful networker is 90% attitude, 10% tactic. Here are Ginsberg’s tips.

->Tip #1. Have an approachable attitude

It boils down to one question: What do you see when you see people? If they are an opportunity to sell, to get a referral, or to give a business card to, that’s not the right attitude, says Ginsberg. You should see other people as an opportunity to make friends, to deliver value, to learn something.

In other words, “surrender your agenda,” says Ginsberg. Clear your head of what you’re trying to get out of an interaction. “Just go there to have fun and make some friends.”

Remember: people can usually tell when you have an agenda, and that’s certainly not being approachable. Surrendering your agenda puts you more at ease to be yourself.

->Tip #2. Brainstorm articles, websites, books that might be useful to people

Always think about ways you can give value to people you meet. It will distinguish you from the hordes of others who are looking to get something.

“I think you need to position yourself as a resource,” Ginsberg says. “I’m a firm believer in physically bringing something to give to people.”

It’s not logo-bearing erasers and water bottles. Ginsberg is talking about a copy of an article you wrote or clipped out, a list of your favorite books or something that’s relevant to the event -- something of value.

->Tip #3. Create a philosophy card

This, too, will distinguish you from the crowd. Ginsberg suggests asking yourself the question: If everybody did exactly what I said, what would the world look like? Answer the question with five to seven bullet points and put it on a business-sized card. You could give it to people in addition to or in place of a business card if your contact information is on the philosophy card.

Philosophy is not a mission statement or corporate policy; it’s who you are as a human being. “That little card … has made me $50,000,” Ginsberg says. See it here:

During the event

With an approachable attitude, your three important contacts in mind, your handouts and philosophy cards, you’re ready to go to the event. Here are a few tips to help you connect with people while you’re there.

->Tip #1. Arrive early, stay late

You’ve probably heard this one before because it works. Ginsberg says the “arrive early, stay late” rule is a good one because it puts you in a position to meet the board members, volunteers and “new people” who’ve not attended the event before. It’s good to be someone’s first friend, he says, because they will remember you. And it’s good to chat with summit volunteers because they can give details about who’s attending.

Staying late is beneficial. You don’t want to cut off a good conversation, especially when it’s on your time, as opposed to the event’s time. You never know what will come of it.

->Tip #2. Ask great questions

Do not ask people: So, what do you do? “That’s the worst question in the world,” Ginsberg says. Ask people specific, interesting, open-ended questions. And tailor them to each event.

Ginsberg went to the BookExpo America event last summer in New York, for instance. So he asked: What’s the best book you’ve read this summer? Use interesting questions as an icebreaker. It gets people to think and be creative.
“It’s about: let’s get to know each other,” he says. “So many people are like … nice to meet you. Hey, here’s my card. Now you can refer me to your friends. And I’m like, but I’ve just met you, why would I?”

->Tip #3. Tell a story

It’s always good to have an interesting story to tell -- either about your business or yourself. People remember stories. But don’t force it, Ginsberg says.

“I think a lot of business people are guilty of trying to force remarkability, and it doesn’t work,” he says. “Just take some time to think about, what’s the most remarkable thing about my business? And what’s my story, what am I known for?”

If you’re shy, Ginsberg suggests reading one of the many books out there about shyness or go to your local Toastmasters International chapter and take an improv class or practice, practice, practice repeating your story to yourself, your friends, your family.

->Tip #4. Keep pen and paper handy

This tip is so simple, yet overlooked. If you don’t write it down, it never happened, Ginsberg says. The idea is not to let those great ideas, book titles, blogs, etc., escape your grasp while you’re networking. Get into the practice of recording them.

->Tip #5. Don’t over-examine body language

It’s really not difficult to avoid body language faux pas, says Ginsberg. Don’t cross your arms. Smile at everyone. That’s it. “If you do that, you’ll be fine,” he says, because you’re really not going to have time to analyze and worry about the nuances of body language.

After the event

You have a pocketful of business cards. Hopefully, you wrote notes on each card about a conversation you had or articles you promised to email. Now it’s time to follow up.
Follow-up is the most important part of any networking event, says Ginsberg. But there are a few dos and don’ts to consider.

->Tip #1. Don’t try to sell right away

Follow-up is not about saying, “Hey, it was nice to meet you, now we can do business together.” The key is to give value and not expect anything in return. Demonstrate you listened to the person you’re following up with. Send them an email saying it was nice to meet them and reference the conversation you had at the event. Then, offer a link or a resource, as opposed to saying, “Hey, now you can refer me,” he says.

->Tip #2. Be patient

The point of networking is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, Ginsberg says, so be patient. Don’t expect results right away. “We live in such a fast-paced, ADD, instant gratification, hyper-speed culture that we think … if I went to a networking event on Monday I’m going to get a referral on Tuesday … It doesn’t work that way.”

->Tip #3. Leverage your newsletter or blog to keep in touch

Find out if the people you’ve met would be interested in receiving your newsletter or if they’d like to check out your blog. You could do this at the event or in follow-up. Providing the link to your blog from your email signature is one way to subtly let them know you have one.

Or you could email a reference to a blog post that is relevant to the person you’re sending it to. But, instead of saying, “I think you might be interested in,” try using them in an actual blog post. For example, after a speaking gig in South Dakota, Ginsberg went to a Mexican restaurant with a client and some friends. He blogged about the restaurant and included his client in the blog. Then he emailed the post to his client. “Because she was part of the story, she ended up emailing it to people she knows,” Ginsberg says.

Another good tactic is to say, “I thought of you when...” If you can find a way to connect something you’re blogging about to a client or prospect or colleague, it’s a good way to keep in touch -- without trying to sell them something. It’s a good way to get your name in front of them so they don’t forget you.

In general

-Use contact-management tools to keep in touch.
You could use one of several contact-management software systems out there. Ginsberg suggests ACT! by Sage and NOW Up-to-Date & Contact.

-Use social networking sites to keep in touch.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Meetup are all good sites to join to keep up with people you’ve met and want to develop relationships with.

-Randomly call or email people you haven’t talked to in a while
To do this, Ginsberg uses his Gmail account. Gmail has a function that allows you to type in a person’s name and it pulls up all the emails sent or received from that person. It’s a good way to check when you last made contact and decide if it’s time to give that person a call.

Useful links:

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