It can be super scary to approach people you don’t know (yet)! But in business development, you have to… if you think you could use some help or helpful tips to break the ice, read on.
I have to be a confident person and a smooth talker because I’m in marketing or BD, whichever you want to call it, right?
The truth is, most of the time, I am, and occasionally, I’m not. If you put me in a booth at a conference and people walk by, I’ll conquer their hearts at the slightest hint of interest.
But, if you put me in a crowded evening event where I have trouble hearing, doubt sometimes creeps in and seriously impairs my networking bravoure… throw a pretty girl in the mix, and I’m completely lost.
We all have our strengths; if breaking the ice isn’t yours, try to practice some of these tricks.
Make a list
Get your hands on a delegate list, scan it, identify exciting people, research, make up some bad excuses to talk to them, and… execute your master plan.
Reach out ahead
Either connect to people on linkedin or possibly through a 1:1 partering program but setting up meetings beforehand is an excellent way of securing time with the people you’re interested in.
Reach out through a conference app! To be honest, some of these apps stink. But at the very least, give it a shot because it’s easy to identify prospects and send them a message. As always, keep it short. A simple:
Hi there, I was looking at your profile and genuinely believe my company could provide you with added value by….
Send out a couple and see what happens!
Or try posting some questions in the news feed and contacting interesting responders.
Know your stuff
Get familiar with the program to ensure you know what you’re talking about, where to go and who’s hot or not!
See if anyone you know is also attending the conference and see if this person could introduce you to new people. For some reason, it’s also easier (psychologically) to join a group with two people instead of doing it alone; it helps reduce anxiousness.
Introduce yourself to the person sitting down next to you
If you’re attending sessions, pick seats next to people that might be interesting. While sitting down, the other person will always be curious about who is sitting beside them and how little it may be. Depending on the conference, you usually have 4 sessions, and if you neighbour two people, you could be at a solid 8 contact moments!
Come up with questions
Conference visitors attend to learn about specific topics and will almost certainly appreciate sharing thoughts with a peer. So, make sure you attend some sessions (or google the topic) to know what you’re talking about and ask for someone’s point of view. This will lead you away from the standard chat where everyone explains who they are and what they do. Save that for later and build up some rapport first!
If you’re in a small session, come up with some challenging questions you’d like to approach the speaker afterwards and join the discussion. Or bring glory home by speaking up during the session and introducing yourself briefly before posing the question to gain some mini-exposure.
Make your round across the exhibit
Even if you’re a service provider, it doesn’t hurt to talk to all the exhibitors. It’s a small world, after all. You’ll meet some people along the way, get some fun gadgets, and learn about what’s happening and what other companies are currently working on throughout the industry.
These are known for their informal character and are based on interaction, meaning half your job to meet people is done for you. Just be sure to be on time to participate; the rest will follow naturally. Of course, you are following up with certain participants after the session is always a good plan.
Tired? Have a seat in the lounge
Sit down near people who aren’t glued to their laptops because they probably don’t want to be disturbed. Other people are usually open for small talk, so make use of the opportunity.
Food & Beverages
Join a group where you already know someone for lunch
You’ll be welcomed by this person warmly, making subsequent introductions to the others a natural process.
Get coffee a lot
I’ve based an entire BD tactic on coffee, and needless to say: everyone needs coffee. So whenever you’re getting ‘the good coffee’, you’ll find yourself in a queue, with someone in front of you and behind you. The one behind you is easiest: turn around, look each other in the eye, stick out your hand, and voilá: we have contact. As for the one in front of you.. guess you’ll have to wait for the other person to turn around! Or maybe try a loud cough.
Hang out at the bar (and have a drink)
Everybody’s favorite time of the day: the open bar! If you’re not too tired from networking all day, this might be the walhalla of talking to people. It’s free so get people drinks, talk to the people waiting at the bar, and don’t forget to have one yourself (alcohol has its advantages).
Keep moving around
You should never expect everyone at a conference to come by you at some point. These cognac brown shoes are made for walking. Most people stick around the same spots all day, so it pays off to keep moving around if you want to come across new individuals.
Put your phone away
Addicted as we are, the first thing we do when we get bored is grab our phones. Checking email, WhatsApp, the cute animals feed on Instagram, whatever. It can wait until tonight. Every moment you look at your phone is a moment you will be perceived as off-limits by others.
Just put your phone away and if you really miss it that much, only open it during sessions (the people next to you can’t go anywhere anyway).
Be generous with sticking out your hand
As a rule, stick your hand out when someone so much as looks at you. Everyone knows they are at a networking event. No one will leave you hanging (maybe a few). Just be honest about it to the other: you hope to meet new people and have a meaningful conversation.
Don’t stick around too long
Whereas the other tips are to meet new people, you should also have a proper exit strategy.
The breaks are usually prime-time networking moments, and it makes no sense to spend it all on the same person (yeah, there are exceptions). In general, your goal is to meet people and follow up later.
So, set a fictive limit to your conversations and keep to it as much as possible. Then, after that time, either come up with a lousy excuse or be honest and say something like: it was a pleasure to meet you, and if you forgive me, I have some other new people to meet. How about we exchange cards and follow up next week?
If all else fails:
Literally, bump into a person. Don’t bodycheck them, but an inconspicuous bump leaves you without options; polite people will always apologize. So, turn it into a conversation by introducing yourself straight after you say ‘sorry’.
Excuse me! I’m Nick, by the way. Pleased to meet you.