Do you dread attending conferences and having to put on your "social" self?
If you're an introvert, those face-to-face events feel more like torture than a treat.
You force yourself to work the room... even though you'd rather sit in a quiet corner and soak up the presentations.
You're switched "on" the entire time, smiling, introducing yourself to strangers, engaging in small talk. No wonder you're drained by the end of the conference.
But did you know there's another way to network at small conferences that doesn't burn you out?
It's a formula that lets you enjoy the conference, relax instead of acting sociable the whole time, and still connect authentically with others.
And because you're not striving to network the entire time, you create a more positive impression.
This approach is the 75/25 formula to networking. It works best in small conferences of up to 100 people, where you're likely to bump into the same people throughout the event.
Here's how it works.
75% of the Time: You're Off the Hook
For the first 75% of the conference, don't worry about networking at all. Focus on the conference agenda and forget your networking agenda. Learn as much as you can, and contribute to the discussion when you can.
Over the course of that time, make a mental list of the people you'd like to connect with before the conference is over. Don't get overly ambitious. Connecting with 3-5 people is plenty.
You can also take note of why you want to connect with them and what you have in common, if that makes you feel more prepared. Better yet, you would have done all that prep work before the conference.
As an example, at a three-day conference, you would do this for the first two days.
The Last 25%: Get Your Networking Game On
During the last 25% of the conference, track down the people you want to build relationships with. Approaching someone you don't know can be nerve-wracking, but the best way is simply to take a deep breath, introduce yourself, and offer your hand for a handshake.
There are many ways to start the conversation. My favorite is to ask questions like, "How are you finding the conference?" "What kind of work do you do?" "Where are you from?" or "How did you find out about this event?"
If you're genuinely interested in the other person, the questions will come easily, although it's good to keep some at the back of your mind, in case you find yourself speechless.
There are lots of other great conversation starters. Whichever one you choose, make sure it's not too personal and that it feels natural to you. Pretending to be someone you're not will just make you even more uncomfortable and awkward. I would also warn against complaining about the venue or food, as others suggest... just in case the other person actually feels differently than you do!
Before ending the conversation, get the person's contact information, and agree on how you'll connect after the conference. That could mean scheduling a coffee meeting, or sending an email with useful information, or introducing the person to someone.
Going back to our pretend three-day conference, you would do the actual networking on the last day.
Of course, this doesn't mean you won't engage others in conversation when the opportunity presents itself throughout the conference. If the conference includes business networking events, you can certainly participate. But only if you want to.
If not, you have a plan: the 75/25 plan.
It's the plan that reduces the pressure on you and allows you to be yourself. With this plan, your social self doesn't have to be "on" all the time. And you can still make all the connections you want. Try it next time you attend a small conference.