Conferences are great in theory, but sometimes disappoint in practice. Sure the speaker lineup is amazing, but how do you actually meaningfully connect with these A-listers? Meanwhile, the room may be jam-packed with potential customers or collaborators, but this very wealth of options can be overwhelming.
So how do you make the most of the options on offer at the next conference you attend? First Round Capital partner Chris Fralic offered some ideas on LinkedIn. A veteran conference goer, Fralic reports that "many of my business relationships can be directly attributed to conferences where I've met the right people and connected in the right way." How does he do it? Here are a few of his tips from the piece.
1. Focus on learning and connecting.
Most of the time you're not going to a conference to close sales or pitch investors. You're going to learn and meet people, insists Fralic. It's a crucial distinction that will affect your behavior.
"When connecting with people, the goal is not to tell your life story, or present your 50 page business plan at the first handshake, or to immediately hand over your business card. The goal is to make a good impression, to learn something about and/or show you know something about the other person, and get permission to follow up," he writes.
2. Read up on the people you'd like to meet.
If you want to make a good first impression, it pays to know a little bit about the people you'd like to meet in advance. That's why you should read up on speakers and attendees of interest, according to Fralic. "You should have an idea what you'd say ask to each if you get the chance to say hello," he explains.
He concedes it's sometimes hard to get a list of attendees before an event, but suggests you might be able to finagle one from the organizers or a sponsor, or even pick one up at the registration desk.
3. Sit in the front row.
OK, this requires a bit of boldness, but Fralic offers two rationales for getting over your shyness. One, if you're right in front, you won't be tempted to get sucked into your iPhone and laptop. Two, "sitting up there forces you to pay attention." Bonus tip: got a blog or huge social media following? Consider getting yourself a press pass and the reserved seat that comes with it.
4. Loiter strategically.
Want to meet people? Be thoughtful about where you stand. "There is usually an obvious choke point of people, where every speaker and attendee will converge or pass through, and it's a good place to stand to get to meet the people you want to connect with. It might be the registration desk, it might be the entrance to the main room--but you have to stand/chat somewhere and that's as good a place as any," writes Fralic. Just don't be that guy making it impossible for everyone else to get where they're going, please.
5. Loiter strategically, speaker edition.
Apparently, something similar to tip four can work for speakers too. "Look for the line between the green room or the A/V setup area and the stage - that can be a better place to meet speakers," instructs Fralic.
Of course, Fralic isn't the only expert offering tips on this subject (check out the complete post for more of his). He seems like a pretty outgoing guy, so if some of these make you break out in hives of anxiety, be aware that others have advice for how introverts can survive -- or even thrive -- at big conferences.