With TBEX North America just around the corner, many of us are thinking about the people we’d like to meet and the connections we’d like to build at the year’s biggest travel blogging conference.
We’re so often tied to our computer screens — it’s exciting to get out and meet our peers in person. Blogging conferences provide opportunities to network with brands and fellow bloggers — connections that could lead to exciting partnerships and collaborations in the future.
But networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Even if it does, it helps to have a plan to make the most of these networking opportunities.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for networking at blogging conferences and beyond.
1. Do your research
If there are brands or bloggers that you’re especially excited to meet, it helps to do your research. Be familiar with their work and have a grasp on how your work might fit in with theirs.
If it’s a business you’re looking to connect with, check out recent news about their company and take a look at their social media. What are they promoting right now? Who are they targeting? And how do those things overlap with what you have to offer?
If it’s a blogger you want to connect with, it helps to know what they’ve been up to lately — which, of course, you can easily research on their blog.
Even if you don’t have a formal meeting with these people, having some background knowledge will make an impromptu conversation much easier and more beneficial to both parties.
2. Pre-network on Social Media
Conferences are a whirlwind of activity and new faces. If you want people to remember you, it helps to do a little pre-networking first. Connecting with them on social media prior to the conference will help put a face to a name when you meet in person.
“I find the people I want to connect with — no matter how big or small they are – on social media, follow, and start engaging. I send DMs on Twitter introducing myself, and saying how I’d love to meet up. If possible, I get something ‘on the books,’ or find out if we have overlapping sessions we want to attend. The walking in/out of sessions can give you a 1-2 minute window to at least say hello, swap cards, put a face with a name. If I do pre-networking right, the networking part just feels like meeting friends I already know.” – Valerie Stimac of Valerie and Valise
3. Stock up on business cards
Do not forget to bring business cards.
And bring plenty to go around. Business cards are the easiest way to exchange information. Handing someone your business card after a quick chat will become second nature by the time the conference is over, and if you don’t have that card to hand over when everyone is offerings theirs, you’re going to feel a little left out.
There are always some new bloggers who say they just started and don’t have business cards yet because they’re just here for the learning experience and not to chase down business opportunities. But really, it’s never too early to help new connections remember your name.
Moo.com is a popular resource to create and order business cards. If your blog is new, don’t stress out about the design. Just make sure it has your basic contact information, including your Twitter handle!
4. Talk to new people and reach beyond your niche.
With many bloggers returning year after year, TBEX — like most blogging conferences — can feel a little cliquish if you’re new to the scene. If you’re not new, you might find yourself gravitating to the same people you’ve met previous years.
New bloggers might feel a little left out from the groups that have already formed, but look at this as an advantage! Every single person is a new person to meet. So get out there and start introducing yourself.
Bloggers also have a tendency to gravitate towards fellow bloggers in their same niche. Having a common niche is an obvious motivation to connect. And you should! But don’t underestimate the value of reaching beyond your niche for new connections. By reaching out beyond our specific niches within travel, or even beyond travel when the opportunity arises, can present us with new ideas, new information, and different ways to collaborate and work together.
5. Don’t miss the parties
People are busy during the conference. They’re running from one panel to the next, and they have meetings lined up in between. But the more social events offer time to ditch your script and meet new people.
The events and parties that happen outside of the more structured, day time activities, allow everyone to feel a little more relaxed and approachable.
So grab a plate of food and a beverage, and join someone’s table. It’s a great way meet new people and start a conversation without the pressure of a formal meeting.
That being said, don’t be too pushy about networking at the social events. While the parties are definitely an opportunity to meet and chat, people might not feel like being pitched on your partnership idea while they’re enjoying the first meal they’ve had time for all day. Keep it light and enjoy yourself — and you might find yourself making the best connections that way!
6. Write down your priorities and stick to them
Who are the top three people you want to meet? Write down the names of the people you most want to connect with, and hold yourself to that goal. Travel bloggers and writers, even in the top tier, are typically very approachable. But it can still be intimidating to introduce yourself. If you have your priorities in mind, you’re more likely to push yourself to have those met.
If you’re someone who has difficulty approaching new people, it can help to reach out before the conference, and open that door before the pressure is on in person. Back to the idea of pre-networking — if you introduce yourself or maybe even plan a time to meet, it’ll be easier to hold yourself accountable. They may even approach you!
7. Skip a Session to Mingle
Panels, keynotes, and workshops are great. Regardless of your experience level or specialty, there’s always something new to learn.
But the times when panels are in session are also the time when brand representatives and sponsors are the most likely to be free. These people might be bombarded with bloggers waiting to talk to them during the hours dedicated to networking. But when most people are busy with sessions and keynotes, you might catch that one person you really wanted to talk to is free.
If there’s a time when none of the panels appeal to you, don’t force yourself to pick one. Use it as a chance to network with the brands and sponsors instead.
“It would behoove you to skip a session, especially if you’re a newbie TBEXer. Your stats are most likely not high enough to land you a “speed date” with one of the more sought after tourist boards or travel companies. (Speed dates are a form of networking where bloggers have 3 minute dates with vendors.) Thus, you need to go out of your way to land time with them. During breakout sessions is the perfect time to network if you couldn’t land a speed date.” – Bryan Richards of The Wandering Gourmand (Check out Bryan’s post on 14 tips for attending TBEX for even more helpful suggestions.
8. Remember that we’re all here for the same reason
If you find the idea of approaching big brand representatives or well-known bloggers intimidating, remember that they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to meet people, too. People go to conferences to network and interact with their peers. No matter when you started your blog and what kind of experience you have to offer, you are surrounded by your peers who are ultimately working to achieve the same things you are.
And you’re definitely not the only one who finds networking uncomfortable or intimidating at times. Everyone has to work at this, and plenty of us are shy about introducing ourselves to people we don’t know. But knowing we’re all in this together — we’re here to be productive and also to have a good time — makes it all a lot easier.
If you’re heading to TBEX in Bloomington, Minnesota next week, don’t forget to stop by the TBS table and introduce yourself! We’d love to meet you all!