There you are. Standing in the corner. Waiting. Checking your phone. Waiting.
No, you’re not a stalker. You’re an awkward conference goer. One who didn’t come prepared. All you have are a few business cards in your back pocket. And you’ve already realized that’s not enough to save you.
It’s easy to walk into a networking event and feel overwhelmed and unprepared (and awkward). So we asked the Young Entrepreneur Council, “What one thing do you always make sure to take with you to a conference or event (other than business cards)?” so you can make a list for next time:
1. Conversation Starters
Sometimes conference chitchat can be painful. After the standard, “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?” questions, an awkward silence typically ensues. Come prepared with conversation starters to slip in to keep the conversation going. My favorites are related to the content: “Get any good info in the sessions today?” or “Are you excited about any of the keynotes coming up?”
—Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People
2. A Notebook
When I attend conferences and events, I see so many peers nodding along and not taking any notes, as if they want to seem like they already know everything. As Ben Casnocha says, “If you aren’t taking notes, you aren’t learning.” Great leaders are never too proud to learn. No matter how you decide to take notes, it’s helpful to have a repository of key insights to revisit and continue to learn from.
—Ryan Stephens, Ryan Stephens Marketing
3. Portable Battery Chargers
While at a conference, you rarely have time to go back to your room and charge your phone. With extensive social media and phone usage, you often end up with your phone being completely dead before the day is over. This is why I always carry a portable battery charger to ensure I have enough power on the most important networking tool (my phone).
—Syed Balkhi, OptinMonster
4. A Networking Game
One of my favorite entrepreneurs, Mari Madden Luangrath (of Foiled Cupcakes in Chicago), pulled this on me. If you find yourself in a circle of people, and conversation has waned, give everyone one to two minutes to talk about what they’ve accomplished recently, with no judgement and tons of celebration. It gives you a better understanding of who that person is, what they do and what gets them excited.
—Sydney Williams, Planet Green Socks
5. A Game Plan
Don’t lose focus on what you’re really there for. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed—or even underwhelmed—by the workshops, keynotes and people to meet. Review the conference agenda and highlight the most relevant sessions to help you stay on track. Research the people who are attending and schedule meetings to get some networking done. You’ll walk away feeling accomplished.
—Humberto Farias, Concepta
6. My Vulnerability
Sometimes I even wear my “Vulnerability is Sexy” T-shirt as a reminder to be open. Attending conferences can be intimidating. It usually takes me a while to warm up. The more vulnerable I am about my discomfort, the more I can connect with others typically having the same experience. So bring your vulnerability, and be willing to be present with others.
—Corey Blake, Round Table Companies
7. Stylish Shoes
Every conference I go to, I’ll find the highest-rated shoe store on Yelp and buy a brand new pair of shoes to wear at the conference. The louder the sneaker, the better. Shoes are conversation starters, and people remember you as the guy with the fly new kicks (especially for a three-day conference). I’ve met some really interesting people just by wearing cool shoes, and I’ve stayed comfortable.
—Brett Farmiloe, Marketing Auditors
8. Your 30-Second Pitch
People are going to ask you what you do. Make sure you have a clear and concise 30-second pitch that communicates who you are and, more importantly, what you are looking for. Most people say what they do, but very few say what they are looking for.
—Murray Newlands, Due.com
9. Answers to Key Questions
I always keep these four questions in mind for every conference I attend: 1) What am I currently working on, and what is the goal? 2) How does the conference bring me closer to that goal? 3) What do I need to learn, and what sessions help me to do so? 4) Who are types of people I want to connect with?
—Mike Ambassador Bruny, No More Reasonable Doubt
10. The LinkedIn App
We connect with people immediately via LinkedIn and skip the business cards whenever we can. It’s a lot easier and the immediate connection makes it far more effective for generating follow-up conversations.
—Ivan Matkovic, Spendgo
11. Research on Attendees
Do your research ahead of time and bring a list of people you want to speak to or connect with. Most conferences show the attendee list well in advance of the conference. You should be proactive with the list to maximize your time. Do some light Internet research on the attendees beforehand and then seek out the specific attendees.
—Arian Radmand, CoachUp
12. Mints to Share
In my experience, mints are great icebreakers. I always have some on hand, in case somebody asks for one. Or, try having one yourself while chatting in a group. Inevitably, someone will notice, become insecure of her breath, kick herself for not bringing any and ask you for one. Next, you’re chatting.
—Manpreet Singh, TalkLocal
13. A Team Member
I always bring someone else from my team. Business cards are just paper; another person is a voice and personality to remember. We can cover more space together, hold twice as many conversations and double the impact of our presence.
—Zoe Barry, ZappRx
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.