Now I will first preface that I was recently an exhibitor not an attendee, but I believe most of these principles can be applied to both parties.
Not all networking takes place in a confined space like the session room or in the expo hall. Most attendees come from out of town and will likely be at one of the hotels you are staying at. Check out the hotel restaurant or bar – they’ll be there. Even a simple run-in at the lobby coffee stand can provide a space to get to know someone. Some attendees or exhibitors may be attending alone and actually want someone to connect with – use that as an opportunity to network in a comfortable way that is not forced.
Talk to your boothmates.
Yes, even other exhibitors can become great resources for you. Whether they can provide trade booth secrets or even just someone to help you smile during the long days, the people that surround your booth can be a great asset. If other exhibitors know what your business is offering they could even direct people to your booth once they’ve had a chance to learn about theirs. It’s a give and take that should not be taken lightly. During slow times at the expo hall you can get to know your boothmates, find out common interests and maybe find out you can help each other out then or in the near future.
Go to the events.
It may sound silly to attend every entertainment event the conference puts on, but pick out the ones that seem interesting and just GO. From a sponsored concert to a bagel breakfast, a multitude of people from different backgrounds will be attending. That relaxed atmosphere is the perfect place to strike up a conversation and get to know someone without having to “pitch” or sell them on your business service/product. If anything you get to eat and take pleasure in fun things for free.
The harder you try, the less authentic you come off to others. Everyone is there for a reason, but yours doesn’t have to be to bond with someone right off the bat. A simple hello to a familiar face on the elevator or in the expo hall can be your way in. Most people are happy to get to know others in their field and even expand their professional network as well, take advantage of the space you are in.
AND MOST OF ALL – have fun! You are at a conference for work, but it’s still time not spent in an office. Enjoy being able to be around new people. And hey even if you don’t connect with anyone at your first conference at least next time you’ve learned a bit more about what to do/not to do.