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On Sunday, Black Enterprise kicked off its 15th annual Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo sponsored by ExxonMobil with a meet-and-greet networking reception at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta. For the next couple of days, the opportunity is here for businessmen and women and entrepreneurs to make connections and build mutually beneficial relationships. But with more than 1,000 registered attendees, how do you keep from getting overwhelmed trying to talk to everyone? Networking — here at the Entrepreneurs Conference or at any large conference — can be easy if you try these simple tips:
Early is on time: You know the saying: The early bird catches the worm. Getting to sessions early is a great time to connect with panelists, moderators, and other attendees. Be very interested and engaged while the other person is talking, and make your intentions known as well, says Debra Langford, vice president, Inclusion and Business Diversity at NBC Universal. “I don’t think that each networking opportunity has to have a designated outcome of something specific. Because you don’t know where your good is going to come from. You just may be the connection they were looking for.”
Use social media: Look up the people who are attending the conference. Blackenterprise.com made it easy for you. On Friday, BlackEnterprise.com Editor-in-Chief Alfred Edmond Jr. posted a blog listing the business experts who will be at the Entrepreneurs Conference who have active Twitter accounts. Check it out and make some connections!
Get off the side lines: Take advantage of the breaks between sessions and during lunch breaks. I know you may be tempted to whip out your cell phone and browse the Web to avoid interacting with others, but that’s the wrong attitude. Take this time to talk to your fellow attendees and share your business interests. You never know who you could be sitting next to.
Manage your business cards: Oftentimes, you connect with so many people at a conference that it’s easy to forget who’s who. “When I exchange cards with someone, I put a note on the back that indicates where I met them, a unique identifier about them, and some kind of action item,” says Patricia Perkins, a certified leadership coach and speaker. Let’s use the back of a business card I might give someone, for example: LaToya M. Smith, Entrepreneurs Conference, works at Black Enterprise, follow up with story idea. “Make notes but don’t do it right in front of the person,” Langford adds. “For every five or six cards you get, move out of eye view, if possible, and jot something down on the back of the card.”
Follow up: After you make the connection, keep in touch. This is crucial. Send your contact an e-mail or a message on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media platform if they directed you to do so. Be careful not to send a friend request too soon after meeting someone, however. A friend request 10 minutes after a conversation can be a turnoff. Give it a couple of days. If you don’t know what to say, refer to your notes on the back of your business cards.
For more about what’s going on at the 2010 Entrepreneurs Conference, look for other articles titled 2010 Entrepreneurs Conference: and follow @BlackEnterprise on Twitter at #BEEC and #ECC.
LaToya Smith is an assistant editor at BlackEnterprise.