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Advisors, Private Equity

Making the Most of Conference Networking

Conferences have long been used by M&A professionals to expedite networking and deal sourcing. But even the most seasoned conference veteran can struggle to weed through the crowd to find good connections, arriving back at the office only to deem the trip a waste of time.

Below you’ll find some helpful tips to refresh your conference networking approach. Next week’s InterGrowth will be a great opportunity to practice these strategies.

The Initial Approach

When considering who at the conference to approach, it is critical to consider the timing and context of your introduction. Interrupting the wrong conversation at the wrong time can be unproductive and bad for future conversations; time it right and you’ll easily have made new connections.

A quick way to judge if other conference attendees are interested in a new conversation is by their body language and the tone of their conversation. If you try and insert yourself into a serious conversation, you will make a poor first impression. Be sure that the attendees you’re approaching are not in a serious meeting or a private conversation. Read body language and look at the environment around them; if attendees are sitting at a table, away from the crowd with paperwork out, it is likely not the best time to go over and say hello.

However, if the environment seems more casual, feel free to introduce yourself. After all, attendees come to these conferences to meet new people. Even if two attendees are already chatting, walk up and introduce yourself or ask how they know each other. If they are looking for conference networking opportunities, they will be thankful you took the initiative.

An even better opportunity to approach is when two colleagues or old associates are standing next to each other, but not talking. They are practically inviting you to start the conversation.

It’s All About The Opening

When beginning a conversation, there are a few ways to quickly break the ice.

One of the most important strategies is to ensure that everyone you meet can easily identify you. Place your name tag on the right side of your body– it provides maximum visibility while shaking hands. If you are easily identified, you do not have to break the flow of the conversation or your introductions.

Then, there is the matter of what to discuss. Most often, the easiest topics of conversation are the conference itself or the private capital markets. Since this is a guaranteed commonality, it is a good way to get the conversation flowing. After someone introduces himself and states where he works, feel free to ask more about his firm. “I’m not familiar with your firm, what do you focus on?” is a great opener. It shows curiosity, and does not seem pushy or disingenuous. “What brought you to the conference this year?” is another good option.

Don’t Make it All About Business

Although it is easy to start with business-talk, be sure to have some more personal conversations as well. You can ask about something unrelated to the conference: “So, what are you passionate about when you’re not at an event or work?”

Taking this approach will surely make both you, and the conversation, more memorable. It will be refreshing to have a conversation that’s not all about business and by talking about things unrelated to business, you are going a level deeper and likely forming more of a bond.

For these personal details, be sure to make a note of what you discuss on the attendee’s business card right after the conversation — that way, you can be sure to include a personal note in a followup call or email. Their professional information is available on Linkedin and on their firm’s site, but these personal details tend to go pretty far.

Other helpful hints

Always eat before a networking opportunity. You don’t want to waste any valuable networking time waiting in line or scarfing down food.

Pre-plan meetings when possible. While impromptu meetings and off-the-cuff introductions can certainly be valuable, planning ahead will ensure you’ve both got your heads in the game for a meeting.

Be aware from the time you leave the office until you get back. While the airport, the train station, or the cab line may not seem like the most obvious place to develop a business relationship, it is likely that you’re in these places with many other conference attendees. Having a conversation whilst traveling may prove to be equally (or more) valuable than meeting someone at a conference.

Want to put some of these networking tips to the test? Join us at Axial’s private event at ACG InterGrowth on April 14th, or later this month at our Dallas Summit.

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