9 Expert Tips to Make Networking Easier at Industry Events

How to succeed at networking, from the people who do it the most

Adweek Nextech ad tech conference
Marketers mingle at Adweek's NexTech event in July. Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Picture yourself at an industry conference wrapping up for the day—the panels are done, and cocktail hour is about to begin. You’ve grabbed your drink and spotted an open table, but just as you get there another group reaches it at the same time. It’s time to break the ice and have a productive conversation. Some people are naturals, but many dread what comes next.

If that’s you, Adweek has been collecting career tips and workplace advice from top marketers across the brand marketing ecosystem as part of our new daily newsletter First Things First.

Here’s how to make networking easier and more valuable.

Laura Small, vp and director of people, RGA

Do your homework on who else is attending and identify someone in advance that you would like to connect with, and why. A few years ago, I had won an industry award, and an agency owner came up to me and said, “I was hoping to meet you tonight—I saw that you had won that HR award, and I’d like to get your thoughts on how we are doing HR at my agency.” It was a great way for us to connect, and we’ve stayed in touch since. I’ve used her approach many times myself now, and it always fosters an authentic dialogue.

Andrew Furman, svp of North American sales, Outbrain

Industry events are great opportunities to learn something new and get connected to new people. Don’t just aggressively hunt down the folks you have identified as high priority. Meet as many people as you can by participating in discussions, asking questions during panels, being early for breakfast and staying out for drinks. Naturally, you will meet the folks you identified and many more that were not even on your radar.

Alyssa Jarrett, director of brand and content marketing, Iterable

For attendees, make it clear as to why you’re at the event so you stay focused, whether it’s to meet prospective clients, gain intel about the competition or get a specific question answered. For event organizers, find a discreet way to visually differentiate customers, prospects and partners (for instance, by using badges with different colored backgrounds) so your team knows exactly how to work the room.

Sarah Baird, vp of account strategy and operations, Outbrain

At a recent event I attended, another participant wore a pin on their lapel that indicated they are passionate about reading. It gave me something to talk to them about and to warm up our conversation. I love this idea for someone who is just starting to attend networking events.

Marc Strachan, chairman, AdColor

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people. If you are the nervous type, prepare some questions and responses beforehand as thought/conversation starters. People in marketing and advertising love to talk, and most have an opinion on just about everything! You should also have a POV on most things, and be prepared to not be aligned with everyone.

Meike Jordan, head of HR, Productsup

Do as much research and preparation ahead of time [as possible]. Hundreds of companies send representatives to industry events and conferences, which gives candidates the opportunity to meet with companies in person. The ability to speak face-to-face with company reps is a huge advantage for professionals searching for a job and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Not only does it give the candidate a chance to make a good impression on the company, but it also allows them to better gauge if the company is a good cultural fit for them personally.

Jeff Howle, svp and director of employee engagement, EP+Co

Remember that everyone is some degree of nervous. Sure, there are people that are great networkers, but even they are a bit nervous as an event gets going. Remember that everyone is in a similar boat, so just get your confidence up and chat.

Elyse Estrada, vp of education and experience, Foursquare

Make yourself memorable in a good way. In your opening intro, state a fun fact or provide a light anecdote that gives someone insight into who you are. Don’t immediately go for “What do you do?” Ask something more probing like, “Tell me about how you got your name?” Everyone has an answer to that question. Some have a funny story, some might be more straightforward answers, but the way they open up or don’t gives you insight into how they want to interact. You will have a higher likelihood of remembering their name, and they’ll immediately be put more at ease talking about something familiar to them yet not too personal.

Erica Fite, co-founder/co-CCO, Fancy

Remind yourself that there’s no need to be self-conscious because it’s really not about you. Learn about people; ask them questions. If you are honestly interested in others and what they do, you will make some good connections.