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By Amanda Rappak

By growing your professional network, you broaden the range of folks in your field who you can call on for help or rely on for that pivotal pep talk; it can even result in finding new clients or lead to a vital introduction. As we prepare to visit a few locations on the Small Business Tour next week, we thought we’d wrangle up a few ideas for maximizing your conference experience. If you’re attending or in the area, keep an eye out for us! Our very own Stu MacDonald will be there at the Greensboro, NC event June 21st and we’ll be attending the Los Angeles stop on June 27th too, please say hello!

Conference rule #1: Name that goal

Don’t worry that you’ll sound forced, being prepared with something ready to say when someone asks you who you are at a conference is essential. Try to add a goal for your introduction too, for example: “I’m a freelance UX designer and am very interested to learn more about that cool new word, or I guess strategy, called gamification.” But you should also be ready to fire questions at your fellow conference attendees, as well.

Conference rule #2: How do you say, how do you do?

According to Patrick Henry, Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business, a first-meeting situation should ask the typical “who are you, what do you do” but add a critical question: “what are you looking for at this conference or who would be a good person to meet that could help your company so that if I run into someone like that I could introduce them to you?” These questions will focus your interactions, so that you have more conversations with more people. The goal is to be ready to engage with anyone including (and maybe even especially) the person sitting right next to you.

Conference rule #3: The Golden Rule of Follow Up

This is one of the most important steps you can do as a savvy networker. Business consultant Chris Brogan suggests a series of hacks, including organizing the business cards you’ve collected and sending short, personal emails to each person you’ve met. Mention a few lines from your conversation (ex: “I was really happy to talk to you about copyright and intellectual property issues for freelance web designers”). Chris recommends using the few weeks afterward to schedule meetings to build on the momentum of your personal contact at the event.

Hope to see you out there at the Small Business Tour!

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