Never undermine the power of connections, especially those made at industry conferences and trade shows. The 2019 School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference (ANC) around the corner, and state SNA conferences are already taking place across the U.S. Now is the best time to begin developing a networking strategy that will keep you well connected with industry news and people that could benefit your program.

The Networking Bubble

There’s little to no use in telling you the worst or best things you can do to network if you don’t see the value in networking. “The Bubble” is a comforting place where you rarely have to introduce yourself to people, and if you do, it’s in the company of someone you already know who is facilitating the exchange.

Here are some signs you’re in the bubble:

  • You had a hard time dating when you were in school.
    You don’t like to make the first move, or initiate conversations. The fear of rejection paralyzes you. This can venture into two paths: you either blossom into a social butterfly when someone approaches you, or you continue to wilt under the harsh spotlight when you receive attention.

  • You do not go to dinner or the movies alone.
    You prefer to always know someone wherever you go, and the thought of being alone in a new place makes you panic. Your coping strategies are either to find a friend and stick with them the whole time, or to avoid human interaction and be absolutely self-sufficient.

  • No new friends.
    Most of your friends have been around for a long time so you rarely make new ones, although you may know many people. On a day-to-day basis, you find yourself continuously interacting with the same groups you always do.

It’s likely that if you’re someone that has a hard time approaching people, doesn’t travel alone well, and rarely makes new friends – you’ve secluded yourself in a social bubble.

Consider that 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships during business conferences. More importantly, 95% say that these face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.

So, if trade shows and conferences provide a unique opportunity for you to interact with particular vendors; to speak to other professionals in similar positions as you who face similar challenges; or to strengthen the existing relationship you have with state contacts or other industry professionals – are you letting them go to waste?

Networking at Conferences and Trade Shows

Use these conferences and trade shows as an open door to take away more than just pamphlets you’ll never read, and endless samples of products. Use them to improve your program. You will be absolutely surprised how happy people are to help when you take the time to just say hi.

Additionally, if you’re particularly ambitious and are looking to make a move, consider 41% of people looking for employment opportunities found them through networking. It’s the reason why networking is still the best way to find a job.

If you’re attending a regional show, ANC, or your state’s annual conference this year (or if you already have), keep reading to discover the five worst networking mistakes people make at industry shows and make sure you do your best to avoid these pitfalls.

Five Worst Networking Mistakes at Conferences and Trade Shows

Mistake #1: You’re not attending industry events.

Almost every event now has a sheet of “how to convince your boss to attend”. This is because now more than ever, people are in search of ways to leverage the knowledge others have to benefit them.

Staying in the office reading articles like these can only take you so far. New ideas and better opportunities come to those who attend events and make new contacts. If the opportunity presents itself for you to attend a regional, state or national meeting, definitely take it!

Mistake #2: You have the wrong attitude, and everyone can tell.

A smile makes a difference, and so does an open demeanor. If you can be accused of having a particularly stern face, make sure you balance that out with non-verbal cues.

Smiling and making direct eye contact with people is the best way to let people know you’re approachable. If you have trouble initiating conversations, this will be a sure fire way to increase the amount of people coming to you instead.

Mistake #3: You’re getting there late and leaving early.

Sometimes you will run into scheduling conflicts when it comes to conferences. But showing up later in the conference and/or leaving early is just cutting your foot at both ends. The more you’re seen, the more people will begin to recognize you as someone that’s always around, or in-the-know. The more opportunities you have to meet new people, the better.

Mistake #4: You aren’t following up.

Even if you acquire a lot of new contacts, make fantastic first impressions, and become the reigning champion of business card collections – it means nothing if you’re not following up with people you meet. Are you leaving people waiting to hear from you?

The truth is, we have no real idea of how something as simple as a follow-up will make people trust us as someone who delivers, or allows them the opportunity to help our programs in one way or another.

Mistake #5: You don’t introduce yourself.

We’ve all done it. We’ve looked at someone, made eye contact and given that awkward tight-lipped smile of acknowledgement – and then quickly looked away.

Why? Take the time to properly introduce yourself. Make sure that you don’t just stick with friends, and if you find yourself at a session where you don’t know the person to your right or left – introduce yourself to both. Industry events should be the hubs where we build lasting friendships that help each and every one of us. So make sure you’re taking advantage of these events. Pick another time to be anti-social! This is the best time for you to capitalize on yourself and your program for the better.

Do you have any good stories from conferences or trade shows, takeaways, or unlikely friendships that developed? Share them below!  We hope to see you at future conferences across the country, and we’ll definitely see you at ANC 2018.