I've found that attending networking events is the best, and most enjoyable, way to make the connections you need to grow a business. The key, of course, is finding just the right events where you can effectively network -- those that are most relevant to your target audience. This year, I attended three that were the perfect fit for me to build my business: the Portland Creative Conference, Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit, and the Harvest Summit.

The PCC, a conference that showcases and celebrates the creative process of innovative players in various fields, is so popular that 89 percent of 2016 PCC attendees would recommend it to their colleagues. VF's New Establishment Summit hosted intimate conversations between the VF editorial team and luminaries with an equally impressive, intimate gathering of movers and shakers in tech, music and entertainment, politics, science, medicine, and more. Finally, the Harvest Summit gathered hand-selected innovators and disruptors among tech, entertainment, sports, food, and wine to explore collaborative opportunities.

So many illustrious people attended or spoke at each of these events, I could easily fill the rest of this page with their names. As a thought leader and innovator bridging the worlds of tech and entertainment, these are my people, and these were the perfect events for me to attend. All three reinforced for me the importance of networking for my own professional development and brand exposure. By flying with birds of a feather and "seeing and being seen" as a peer among the biggest influencers, I've been able to expand my business pipeline. These are exactly the kinds of clients and collaborators with whom I most want to engage.

Making Connections by Making a Splash

Over the years, I've met new clients, friends, colleagues, and future collaborators at these events. The challenge is to stand out from the crowd and leverage your unique voice to draw those opportunities to you.

1. Approach every conversation as a possible business opportunity. In fact, be proactive and take it upon yourself to find those opportunities. I'm not telling you to be "that" person, of course -- the annoying one throwing around business cards -- because it's more beneficial for you to be selective and approach the individuals you think you might be able to help. Giving to get is the idea here, not simply looking out for your own interests.

At the recent SF MusicTech Summit, for example, a woman stood up and talked about her work geared at improving artist-to-fan engagement at concerts. This happens to be an area of passion for me that I've worked on for more than a decade. I knew I could help her, so I approached her -- and we had a great conversation. She's now my newest client.

2. Speak up in your own unique voice. It's easy to assume that you have nothing new to add to the conversation. When all the experts in the room are saying the same thing, what value can you bring?

Remember: It's important to contribute, anyway! Your life experiences and perspective humanize you. When you share those aspects of your own unique personality, you're more likely to reach someone than if you just quoted a bunch of experts. And your passion and enthusiasm are as important as your expertise -- have something meaningful to share.

The new client I mentioned above wasn't drawn to me because I've worked at Apple, produced many events, or wrangled celebrities. She wanted to work with me because I had not only had those experiences, but had also synthesized them into a real personality capable of bringing value to her business. And she only knew this because I shared them with her in a one-on-one interaction. My enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to the space won her over.

3. Get comfortable saying "no." This may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out.

At events, most people are scrambling to fill their schedules and talk to anyone and everyone. When you set boundaries, though, you're communicating that your time is valuable. This will not only keep you sane, but it also sets a good example for others.

Several years ago, I attended an integrative coaching certification program with Debbie Ford, and musical artist Alanis Morissette was also a participant. As attention continued to shift heavily toward her, Alanis finally stood up and told everyone to focus on their own needs and development instead of her insights.

"Take your power back," she said.

Paradoxically, she couldn't have been more insightful with that comment. When you value your own time and boundaries, the energy changes. You're not only empowering yourself to identify the right opportunities, but you're also encouraging others to do the same.

After a busy fall full of conferences, I plan to actively participate in more industry events that are right for me in the coming year. Get out -- see and be seen, and participate. Whether you speak or just attend, approaching networking events with these tips in mind will help you find the right kinds of clients and collaborators to grow your business.

Published on: Dec 18, 2016