The good news is that just about anyone can get better at networking with time and effort. Those who appear to be natural networkers have likely spent considerable time honing their skills, learning through experience, and refining their approach. Networking isn’t just about being extroverted or having a gift for gab; it involves preparation, strategy, and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

Whether you’re an introvert or someone who feels awkward in social settings, there are strategies you can adopt to improve your networking skills and make the process more enjoyable. To help you make new connections at your next exhibition, we’ve gathered our 14 best tips for networking.

1. Practice Beforehand

By taking the initiative to practice beforehand, you can empower yourself with the necessary skills and confidence. You’ll be much less stressed, and your interactions will go much more smoothly!

  • Build Confidence: If you’re new to networking, remember that it’s a skill that can be developed with practice. Start at smaller local events before attending a large exhibition. This will help you build the necessary skills and confidence, and open up a world of opportunities for growth and learning.

  • Attend Local Meetups: Look for networking events organised by chambers of commerce, professional associations, or other industry groups. These smaller gatherings are perfect for practice.

  • Focus on Conversations: Instead of stressing about selling your company, concentrate on having casual conversations with strangers to ease into the networking mindset.

2. Identify Key Contacts

Identifying key contacts is a crucial step in successful networking at exhibitions. By focusing on strategic connections, these interactions can pave the way for meaningful and productive conversations.

  • Research: As the exhibition date approaches, it’s essential to research the speakers and vendors attending. This will enable you to identify key contacts and plan your interactions effectively, maximising the potential of your networking efforts.

  • Create a Priority List: Identify three to four key people or companies you want to connect with. Prioritise them based on their relevance to your goals.

  • Reach Out: If you already have a relationship with any of them, contact them before the event to arrange a meeting. If you still need to, plan your approach to meet them during the exhibition.

3. Plan Your Schedule

Having a strategic approach will help you feel more organised and in control, aiding you to manage your busy day without compromising on the running of your exhibition stand.

  •  Review the Agenda: Look at the exhibition’s schedule and plan your activities in advance. Include booth duty times, panels, and networking events.

  • Include Meetings: Schedule meetings with potential clients or essential contacts and allocate time for spontaneous interactions.

  • Balance Your Time: It’s important to ensure you have time for meals and breaks to recharge during the event. This balanced schedule will help you maintain your energy and focus.

4. Know Your Pitch

It is crucial to make sure you and your fellow attendees clearly know your marketing message for new contacts at the exhibition. Practice makes perfect, so remember to practice with your colleagues!

  • Clear Messaging: Ensure that you and your team communicate a consistent and clear message about your company’s value proposition.

  •  Practice: Rehearse your pitch with colleagues to ensure you can deliver it confidently and naturally.

  • Review Materials: Familiarise yourself with any promotional materials you’ll be distributing, such as brochures or USB drives with press kits.

5. Tell Your Story

Networking at exhibitions isn’t just about pitching your company or product. Attendees will also want to know about you as a person. Be ready to share your professional story!

  • Personal Connection: Think about how to tell your professional story concisely but engagingly, covering important points such as how you ended up at your current company and what drew you to the industry.

  • Engaging Narrative: Craft a concise but engaging narrative about your career path and what led you to your current role.

  •   Elevator Pitch: Prepare a short personal pitch that you can use to introduce yourself compellingly.

6. Be Authentic

It’s easy to tell when people aren’t genuinely interested in what you have to say or want to talk about themselves (or, worse yet, are trying to lie about their credentials or company!). By focusing on being yourself and sharing a bit of your personality, you can create a more comfortable, natural atmosphere.

  • Genuine Interest: Show real interest in what others have to say and avoid canned responses or exaggerated claims about your company.

  • Personality: Let your personality shine through in your interactions. Authenticity helps build trust and makes your conversations more memorable.

  • Avoid Over-Polishing: Don’t be afraid to share personal anecdotes or insights; these can make your conversations more relatable and engaging.

7. Subtle Agendas

No one attends an exhibition for the sake of just being there. Everyone has some more significant objective. Everyone knows you have some agenda, and they have their own, but there’s no need to leap into it straightaway. So chill out! Focus on getting to know speakers and fellow attendees.

  • Soft Sell: Avoid pushing your agenda too aggressively. Focus on building rapport and understanding the other person’s needs and interests.

  • Natural Conversation: Let the conversation flow naturally and find appropriate moments to discuss how you can help each other.

  • Build Relationships: Networking is about creating long-term relationships, not just immediate transactions.

8. Stay Relaxed and Approachable

A lot of exhibition networking success comes from attitude, so coming into every interaction with optimism and genuine interest in the other person will go a long way—even if you don’t walk away with a new customer or exhibition BFF.

  • Positive Body Language: Smile, maintain eye contact, and keep an open posture to appear more approachable.

  • Manage Stress: Take deep breaths and stay calm to avoid appearing tense or anxious.

  • Friendly Demeanor: Approach each interaction with optimism and genuine curiosity about the other person.

9. Fly Solo Sometimes

Approaching someone standing alone is less intimidating than breaking into a group already chatting. If you are already planning to participate in the exhibition by yourself, take advantage of the opportunity to make some new friends, even if it’s just for the exhibition.

  • Individual Approach: Attending with colleagues can be beneficial, as can spending time alone to meet new people independently.

  • Less Intimidating: Approaching or being approached by a single person is often less intimidating than engaging with a group.

  • New Connections: Take advantage of solo time to attend panels or networking mixers and make new connections.

10. Use Icebreakers

Brainstorm some unusual icebreaker questions that will get the conversation started and make you stand out among the crowd if you can tie your questions into the event.

  • Creative Questions: Instead of the typical “What do you do?”, prepare unique icebreaker questions that can spark interesting conversations.

  • Event-Related Questions: Ask about their experiences at the event, such as their thoughts on a keynote speaker or a particular panel.

  • Natural Starters: Choose questions that feel natural and relevant to the context to avoid forced or awkward conversations.

11. Add Value

In networking interactions, many people focus on what they can get from the other person: a trial of their new product, introductions to more people, industry tips, etc. Instead of only focusing on what you need, think about how to help others at the exhibition.

  •  Focus on Others: Think about how you can assist others rather than what you can get from them. Do you have a lot of industry connections to which you can introduce trustworthy new contacts? Are you a subject matter expert on a relevant topic?

  • Offer Help: Providing value makes you memorable, whether it’s sharing industry insights, making introductions, or recommending local spots.

  • Mutual Benefit: Look for ways to create mutually beneficial relationships where both parties can gain something valuable. Remember, your contributions are just as important as what you can gain from these interactions.

12. Bring Business Cards

We may be living in the digital age, but good old-fashioned paper business cards are the way to go when it comes to networking. You’ll probably receive many business cards in return, so decide where you’ll carry them and how you’ll sort them.

  • Be Prepared: Carry plenty of business cards and ensure they are up-to-date with your contact information.

  • Exchange Cards: Hand out your card to everyone you meet and collect theirs.

  • Organise Contacts: Have a system for keeping track of the cards you receive, such as making notes on the back or using a digital app.

13. Capture Leads Efficiently

Scribbled notes on business cards are just the first step. Have a digital master file where you keep track of all your contacts, whether as simple as a basic spreadsheet or as fancy as a marketing automation platform. Inputting your contacts into some database will make it much easier to review them and figure out how to follow up after the exhibition.

  • Lead Tracking: Use a lead capture system to keep track of contacts and notes from your interactions.

  • Digital Backup: Maintain a digital copy of your contacts in a spreadsheet or CRM system to avoid losing important information.

  • Follow-Up Plan: Develop a plan for following up with leads after the exhibition, including personalised messages and reminders.

14. Build Relationships

Your work here is done, right? Wrong! You’ll still need to follow up with all your contacts but don’t give in to the temptation to give the sales pitch right away.

  • Timely Follow-Up: Send thank-you emails referencing your conversations and expressing your desire to keep in touch.

  • Content Sharing: Use your company’s newsletter or blog to maintain contact and provide ongoing value to your new connections.

  • Personal Touch: Consider sending branded corporate gifts as a thank-you gesture to reinforce the relationship.

Following these 14 detailed tips can enhance your networking skills and make meaningful connections at your next exhibition. These tips only scratch the surface of the depths of networking skills, but the strategies will help you engage with potential customers, industry peers, and valuable contacts, leading to new opportunities and lasting relationships.

If you have questions or would like assistance, remember that we’re here for you at Whitespace XPO. We’re ready to provide the advice and support you need to ensure a successful exhibition experience.