How to network at a creative conference

How to network at a creative conference from Dear Handmade Life

Welcome to the fifth post in our series as we prepare for Craftcation: Business + Makers Conference on making the most out of attending a creative conference. If you missed the first three posts you can check them out here:

1. 7 reasons why attending a conference will revolutionize your business and creativity
2. How to choose the right conference to attend
3. How to attend a conference on a budget
4. How to prepare for a creative conference

If you’re ready to take your business and creativity to the next level, click here to join us for four days of making, meeting and learning at the beach in California that you’ll never forget.

Conferences are rare opportunities to make deep in-person connections with like-minded people that you may not otherwise get to meet in person. It can be hard to introduce yourself to someone new, especially if it’s someone you admire or follow online BUT in my experience nine times out of ten it’s totally worth it. I’ve met some of my closest friends at conferences which I wrote about in this post on seven reasons why attending a creative conference will revolutionize your business and creativity. Those first anxious “hellos” have developed into close personal friendships and supportive business relationships that are irreplaceable.

The seven tips below for how to network at a conference will help you prepare, combat social anxiety and follow up so you make the most of the connections you make a conference and build your creative community.

7 networking tips for creative conferences from Dear Handmade Life

1. Research the presenters and attendees

I mentioned this in our posts on how to prepare for a conference and seven reasons why attending a creative conference will revolutionize your business and creativity but it’s worth expanding on here. Once you plan your goals for the conference it’s time to figure out not only which workshops will help you reach them but which people can offer you the support and guidance you need. If you’re looking to build your in-person community, check and see if other attendees are coming from your state or city. If the conference offers opportunities for one-on-one time with presenters, sign up for them! Usually these sessions cost a lot money so utilize this chance as part of the conference registration. Taking this time out before you arrive will be well worth your while.

Craftcation attendee Keri Cleverly says:
“Spend time researching the guest speakers and presenters. I try to familiarize myself with their businesses, products and talents. Often while doing this, I’ll make a list of questions that I may want to ask if they have a question and answer forum.”

2. Reach out before you arrive

Once you have your goals figured out and research done, it’s time to make the most out of your online community by reaching out to the people you want to meet. If you’re super excited about a specific workshop, post on social media about it and be sure to tag the presenter and the conference. Follow the conference hashtag (ours is #craftcation16) and begin interacting with fellow attendees and presenters by leaving thoughtful comments.

Craftcation attendee Natalie Cuen starts building relationships online before she arrives:
“I was very hesitant before my first conference but I decided to reach out via Facebook and Etsy boards to see if anyone was attending. Those chance networking opportunities turned into meet-ups at the conference and friendships long past the conference date. We communicate through social media and support one another personal and business ventures.”

Craftcation presenter Lauren Venell does her research:
“I like to find out as much as I can about who will be attending and speaking beforehand. It’s much more likely that I’ll connect meaningfully with someone at the conference if we’ve already established contact online through email or social media. I also like to try to schedule lunch or dinner dates ahead of time with people with whom I haven’t gotten much face time.”

3. Push yourself out of your comfort zone

Like I mentioned for some of us saying “hello” to a stranger can be super nerve-wracking but more times than not it’s worth it and if you don’t take the chance you’ll never connect and build your community. Put yourself in situations where meeting new people isn’t as intimidating. Take a hands-on class where it will be easy to start a conversation based off the project you are all making. Be sure to take care of yourself and give yourself enough downtime but don’t avoid the social events. Sometimes you have to hole up in your hotel room and catch up on Netflix but ask yourself if you’re doing it to recharge, or to hide.

I’ve found myself struggling to say “hello” to the person sitting next to me at lunch or raise my hand to ask a question during a workshop. Like most things that are difficult, the best thing to do is just take a deep breath, acknowledge your fear, and move past it and do the very thing that is filling you with anxiety. What’s the worst thing that can happen? They brush you off. The conversation falls flat. So what! Congratulate yourself for taking a chance and move on.

My dad gave me the best advice before a job interview when I was freaking out that I wouldn’t get the job, “Instead of thinking of it as them interviewing you, think of it as if you are interviewing them to see if you want to work there.” That advice has helped me through so many interviews as well as interactions meeting new people. If I introduce myself and there’s no connection, I let it go and head out on my search for someone who I will connect with. Your community is out there but you’ll never find them if you spend all of your time feeling self-conscious in your hotel room.

Craftcation attendee Natalie Cuen says:
“You have to reach out to other attendees and make an effort to connect. I’ve heard of others going to a conference and spending time alone in their rooms because they didn’t know anyone. That breaks my heart. You are all there for a similar purpose or goal so you have some common ground.”

I love Craftcation presenter Lauren Venell’s advice to get rid of the “buffer seat”:
“If you have trouble connecting with new people at events, take part in structured activities and try to sit right next to (or across from) someone else. Don’t leave a “buffer” seat in between–that will just make it harder to have a conversation.”

4. Make every interaction count

If you’re in the elevator with someone and you see that they’re wearing a conference badge… it’s your perfect opportunity to start a conversation. Offer up a genuine compliment about something they’re wearing or ask how they’re enjoying the conference, what their favorite workshop has been so far or what workshop or event they’re looking forward to the most.

Craftcation attendee Keri Cleverly makes it a point to connect with as many people as possible:
“You just can’t be shy, it won’t benefit you. Although I am not naturally an extrovert, I made it a priority to connect with as many people as possible. Everyone I met turned out to be, at the very least pleasant, and at the most a real joy to meet. Just assume it’s going to have to be you to say hello first and to get the ball rolling. I don’t remember anyone that I met who would have rather been just left alone to themselves. Everyone is looking to connect.”

5. Ask lots of interesting questions

It’s no surprise that most people like to talk about themselves. After all it’s the subject we each know the most about. I happen to not only like talking about myself but I love hearing other people share their thoughts, ideas, feelings and dreams. I usually bypass the factual questions like “where are you from?” or “do you have siblings” and start right in with a question that I am really interested in learning the answer to. It’s not that I don’t care where someone is from but if I ask a question like, “what’s your idea of the perfect day off?” I get to know way more about someone in a few sentences than with 10 minutes of small talk. Interesting questions lead to interesting answers.

Craftcation presenter Lauren Venell has awesome advice for introverts who want to start conversations:
“If you’re shy about talking about yourself, just ask questions of others. Most people will be flattered that you are taking such an interest.”

The same goes for questions during workshops. Make sure that the question you’re asking hasn’t already been answered and if you’re not sure preface it with “I’m not sure if I missed something but…” Even if the presenter already covered it you’re acknowledging that you were paying attention but there has been so much great information that you couldn’t keep up. Before I ask a question in a large workshop I always ask myself how likely it is that someone else in the room has the same question. If my question is super specific to me or my niche I may consider saving it for after class or office hours.

6. Keep a notebook

When you’re in the moment talking to someone you may think you’ll remember everything about them but after you spend four days meeting dozens of people and having tons of interactions chances are that you won’t remember the key details that you wished you did. I always carry a notebook and set aside a place in my bag for business cards. Jotting down notes in a notebook, in an app like Evernote or on the back of someone’s business card helps me keep track of who I meet. At the end of each day I set aside 10 minutes to enter all the new contacts into a spreadsheet while the info is still fresh in my mind.

7. Follow up after the conference

When you return from the conference it’s smart to give yourself a bit of time (usually a day to a week) to decompress from all the awesomeness. Once you’re ready to get back to work you should prioritize what you learned and set intentions for implementing new skills and information as well as follow up with the people you met.

Here are a few ways I follow up with new connections after a conference:

a) Follow them on social media (if I didn’t already do this at the conference).

b) Reach out for in-person coffee or drink dates with local people I met.

c) Set up Google hangout or Skype dates with new people I met who don’t live in my area.

d) Send “nice to meet you” emails to attendees, presenters and sponsors that I made connections with.

e) Review my contacts spreadsheet and add any extra notes,

f) Write a blog post about the conference and send a link to people I mention in it.

e) If I made a really deep connection with someone I may even send them a card via snail mail.

Craftcation attendee Vennice James uses social media to stay in touch with fellow attendees:
“Everyone has a name tag and that helps to break the ice with people. Remember most people are nervous and want to meet you too, they just don’t know it yet. Give out your business cards and ask people for their contact information. I’ve received mini zines, tiny cookies and lots of postcards instead of a typical business card. I’ve met many people and have made several connections. Social media makes it easy to find people and keep in touch.”

Craftcation attendees Todd and Anthony of T&A Leather have an awesome mantra that I always keep in mind when networking:
“Forego ego”… A mantra we live by. Talk & interact with as many creatives as you can, especially the ones that are in a similar field. Some will not want to share information but finding the ones that will share will inspire you and in return they will receive inspiration from you. This, in itself, will elevate the artistic soul.” –Todd and Anthony of T&A Leather

So, if you’re coming to Craftcation and happen to see me there… say “hello”. I can’t wait to meet you!

-Nicole S.

How to connect and build community at creative conferences from Dear Handmade Life

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