With thousands of attendees at a typical conference, networking time is a scarce commodity. In the past, I was lucky to get in touch with half of the potential suppliers, prospects, agencies, and friends during conference networking events. With so many attendees at these large conferences, I was simply unable to network with everyone on my target list. I didn't want to give up my penchant for deeply engaging conversations in exchange for meaningless handshakes and card exchanges. So I began strategizing to make the most out of each conference visit. Here are three ways that I squeeze the most networking opportunities out of business conferences.

1. The Mini Meal

I invented the mini meal when attending a one-day conference that had too many target contacts for the allotted time. I found that the best networking times are during breakfast and lunch. These are opportunities to engage other attendees through sharing a meal rather than a contrived "networking event." In an effort to make the most of these hot time slots, I now break down breakfast and lunch into four to six tiny meals. I hit the meal break as soon as it opens, grab a small portion, and then find my first table. I network as efficiently as possible and move on to the next table. Since my meal is small, I finish very quickly, and this typically provides a nice segue for departure. I run through this routine four to six times per meal break, and I always walk away with more relationships.

2. Targeted Value-add Content

I always try to obtain a list of attendees prior to the event. This is easier to do if you're a sponsor, but almost always you can at least get a list of companies. After you've qualified and targeted your top companies, think about what these organizations are looking to gain from attending the conference. How can you address these needs? I always create white papers, e-books, or case studies that address my target contacts' needs. This allows you to start a meaningful rapport with your target individuals through giving rather than receiving. Provide value-add content, and you won't have to ask for the business card.

3. Dynamic Smartphone Target List

It is crucial to keep your target contact list top of mind. I first create my target list of companies that I want to forge relationships with during the event in a simple smartphone spreadsheet app. I then zoom in on the top five in the list using my smartphone and take a screenshot. Then I make this screenshot the background image for my lock screen. This makes sure that I have a quick reference and keep my goals top of mind. Once I move through the top five, I repeat this process for the next top five on my list.

Keeping this list dynamic will also provide opportunities to include quick notes about your conversation and log contact information. The spreadsheet format also forces me to keep my notes brief, which keeps me networking rather than logging details.

If you optimize your conference time through a strategic plan, then you'll engage in quality conversations and create meaningful relationships without sacrificing quantity. What are your networking secrets?