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Developing a strong international business network is one of the most enriching elements of corporate travel. Not only do these relationships have the potential to become highly profitable, they give you an insider’s view on the strategies of others, even outside your industry.

There are few better places to foster these relationships than a conference. Along with learning from industry thought leaders, networking is the prime objective of conference travel. The money spent on attending an international conference can swiftly be recuperated by turning a fellow attendee into a client. After all, cementing profitable relationships is one of the key drivers of corporate travel’s significant return on investment.

Networking can come naturally to some and can be terrifying to others. But as with any skill, improving is only a matter of practice. Below are 5 conference networking fundamentals to ensure your business relationships are built on solid foundations:

 

1. The Introduction

A staple for any networking event is your introduction. Some people swear by a succinct and compelling ‘elevator pitch’ to effectively introduce themselves and their business.

However, conferences aren’t elevators, and in most cases you’ll have more than 30 seconds to make an impression.

Conference attendees spend hours listening to industry professionals spruik their ideas, so it’s unlikely they’ll enjoy being pitched to by a stranger by the end of the day. Avoid launching headfirst into your business’ services and why they should care.

Instead, approach a networking conversation with context and interest. Offer a unique perspective on a presentation you’ve both attended and incite meaningful discussion to make an impression. Referencing your own business in the context of the presentation, through a relevant case study for example, will blend naturally into the conversation and build rapport.

 

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2. Make it Easy to Connect

Once you’ve engaged a fellow conference attendee with insightful conversation, don’t fall off the face of the earth. Remaining easily contactable is an obvious but often overlooked ingredient to successful networking. 

The time-tested business card can still be the most effective way to reconnect with new contacts. Connecting on LinkedIn is passable, but you risk becoming just another one of the 500+ connections in their online network. A wallet-friendly business card will keep you front of mind whenever they reach for their money.

However, giving and receiving business cards presents another minefield of conference etiquette.

 

Avoid handing out business cards to all and sundry, because if they’re irrelevant or unsolicited, chances are they’ll find themselves in the bin before you leave the room.

In fact, research suggest that 88% of business cards handed out are thrown away in less than a week. 63% of business card recipients throw them away because they simply don’t need the service provided by the card giver.

Ensure you respectfully offer your business card only where relevant, and at the conclusion of a conversation. Interestingly, cards printed in colour are kept 10 times longer than their black and white counterparts. Likewise, cards that easily fit into a wallet are less likely to be tossed.

 

3. Use the #conferencehashtag and Be a Voice Worth Listening To

This ties back to your introduction strategy, whereby leading networking conversations with compelling and contextual insights will build rapport with your new contacts.

However, you don’t need to wait until to end of the presentation to spark meaningful conversations. Most of today’s conferences have a dedicated hashtag for social media posts. Don’t only use this for Instagram shots of the snack bar; Tweet your impressions and insights and tag any relevant Twitter handles. 

Better yet, write an article discussing any compelling ideas presented and post it to your LinkedIn. Staying active on social media makes you visible to other attendees, and can be the catalyst for relationship building.

 

4. Being Interested Makes You Interesting

Research conducted by the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at Harvard University found that our brains reward us for talking about ourselves. The study monitored participants while they communicated their opinions, finding increased activity in the areas of the brain tied to value and motivation.

When it comes to effective networking, being interested makes you interesting.

So in addition to offering your insightful take on a presentation you’ve both attended, ask them to share their thoughts. When they do, focus your attention on active listening and reiterate their thoughts to demonstrate your engagement.

 

5. Provide Value

Providing value to other conferences attendees is a surefire way to build professional relationships. It can be as simple as pointing someone in the direction of an article you believe they would enjoy, or offering to share the notes you’ve taken from a presentation.

One frequent conference traveller even swears by the humble power board as their go-to networking tool. With the numberless devices carried by other attendees, finding an empty power outlet to charge up isn’t always easy. And what better way to build rapport than to be the saviour who ensures they can stay connected. Plus, chatting while charging is a great excuse to spend half an hour in conversation.

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