Most conference agendas include one or more parties – usually sponsored by the conference host or their sponsors and exhibiting vendors. These events are a great opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of fellow attendees, but they’re also an important opportunity to meet new people, add to your network, and create new business opportunities.
Here are six tips for better engaging and leveraging these parties in your favor (while at the same time enjoying yourself and having fun!).
1. Take plenty of business cards (but don’t lead with them)
After-hours parties and networking events aren’t meant to be all business, but you also don’t want to be caught without the means of sharing your basic contact information with someone you meet. Don’t lead with your card, unless the event is explicitly a card-exchange or business networking event. But after sharing conversation, if you’re interested in following up afterward, make it easy for the other party to do so.
2. Dress down (a little) but remain professional
If the networking event is right after the formal meeting and in the same location, you can assume the same business or business casual attire is fine. But if the party is at a separate time or location, feel free to dress down a bit. If you were wearing slacks with jacket or suit, for example, jeans are probably OK. But don’t go crazy. Jeans with your shirt and jacket (no tie), for example, says dressed-down but still professional. And you can always lose the jacket if you need to look even more casual, depending on the event and surroundings.
3. Be polite but proactive
As you work the room, make eye contact and say hello to those you pass. Introduce yourself proactively and offer a handshake. If you approach a circle of folks already engaged in conversation, wait until a lull in the conversation or until you’ve been invited to introduce yourself. Respect the room and existing relationships and conversations, but be proactive about getting in there and meeting new people. That’s why you’re there!
4. Remember and write down names, contexts and deliverables
Over the course of the night, you’ll likely meet a lot of interesting people. But it’s important to remember who they are, where they’re from, and any context about the conversation (or things you offered to share with or send them later) for your follow-up. If you get a business card, write the context or deliverable on the back. As a back-up, carry a piece of paper or notebook to write down their name, email and what you promised to send their way later (offering to send something also gives you the “cover” necessary to write this down without looking too geeky).
5. Focus on them, and ask good questions
The easiest way to get people talking is to ask questions. What they do, why they’re at the conference, what have they learned so far, etc. Have a few standard, starter questions ready and keep watch, in their answers, for things they’re particularly passionate about. The more they talk about themselves, the more memorable you will be for asking (and the most likely you’ll find something based on those interests you can follow up with afterward).
6. Don’t overdo it
Nobody makes a good impression at parties by getting drunk. It’s difficult to impossible to execute the above opportunities when you can’t think or speak straight. Have a drink. Or two. Enjoy yourself. Just know your limits, and don’t let yourself get in a position you might be regret the next day.