Updated: Oct 7, 2020
If you are expecting to attend a trade show or large networking event this year, chances are that you are prepping for an experience unlike any before.
But while the added complexity of technology may be foremost in your mind, the most important strategies for such events haven't changed: Preparation and Follow-Up.
Preparation: Knowing your targets
Whether attending live or online, the key to success at tradeshows, job fairs, and conferences is the same. To get the most out of the event, you have to know what you are looking for and where you might find it.
What do you want out of the event?
Know what you are looking for. You will find all sorts of booths and people to distract you once you are in the building or logged-on to the site, so you need a clear sense of what you are looking for if you want to avoid getting totally sidetracked.
Who will be there?
Take time to research what vendors, companies, or speakers will be at the event. What opportunities will they have, or what topics will they cover? Make a schedule well in advance, and fine-tune that schedule each night to prepare yourself mentally for the next day.
What can you learn about them?
Once you know what you want and who to seek out, take time in advance to learn as much as you can about the people or companies that interest you. If they are a vendor, what is their reputation? If they are a recruiter, what's going on in that company at the moment? If they are a speaker or featured guest, what have they been working on lately? The better you know your targets, the more confident you will feel when you engage them.
Follow-up: Sealing the deal or building the network
While at the event, take notes on who you interact with. At the end of each day, review your conversations. Note your professional interest, and note a personal connection you made (Was it particularly hot that day? Did you share jokes about typing speed? Did you bond over a particular off-site coffee shop? Did they call out your watch or your favorite team?).
Within 2 days, send an email or LinkedIn note to everyone you interacted with. In a very short message:
connect on a personal level, and
follow-up on your professional interest
If attending live, you would do well to send your follow-up messages each night, as you may be able to link up before you both leave town.
Whether you are attending a large gathering in person or online, preparation and follow-up remain the most essential steps for ensuring that you achieve your goals for the event. Know in advance what you want to achieve and who you want to seek out, and then follow up with a brief personal connection.