How To Network Effortlessly at Conferences With A Banana

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“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
– Bobby Unser

As some of you know, I just got back from Blogworld where I met a *ton* of people.  Even though I had a blast, the reason I was able to make so many connections so quickly is because I prepared a little before I went.

Here’s the deal – I wrote out a bunch of the tips for what I did to prepare and I’ve included them below. So if you’re looking for 7 tips to make sure you can get the most out of the next conference, mixer or networking event you attend, scroll down to read them

However, I have something really special I learned that I don’t think anyone else has written about, and that’s the meat of what I want to share with you today.

When you get ready in the morning to head out to your conference, adjust your clothes, brush your teeth, and make sure you don’t leave home without this powerful networking tool:

Network Effortlessly: Carry A Banana (Really)

This was a total accident, but I’m going to do it from now on.

The first day I picked up some bananas at a nearby store for a snack and always had a few of them on hand in my laptop bag. Because we were constantly rushing around to sessions and to meet people, I often found people who were hungry and were happy to get a free snack.

So, why are bananas an ideal snack to carry? Why, out of all the food choices you might have, should you choose bananas?

  • Tasty. Hey, it needs to be said – if you’re carrying around food that isn’t appetizing, you’re probably not going to make many friends.
  • Self Contained, Portable and Not Too Messy. Unlike apples or grapes, bananas have a skin which you peel off – so the recipient knows that the banana is clean. It’s easy to carry a bunch of them in my bag, and eating them is not messy like it can be with orange and other citrus fruits.
  • Familiar. I don’t think I’ve ever met an adult who was surprised to see a banana – we’ve cultivated and domesticated them. Unlike niche energy bars or different flavors of trail mix, most people have eaten bananas and know what they’re getting themselves into – and thus are likely to accept the banana.
  • Healthy (Enough). Sure they’re no kale or spinach, but few people will turn down a banana in a pinch because it’s too unhealthy – compared with candy bars and other general snacks, the banana fares pretty well.
  • Universally Accepted (Almost). I’m no expert on the subject, but unlike beef, pork, etc there’s no religion I know of that bans bananas.  Vegans, vegetarians and raw foodists alike will eat them.  Further, even most diets except fot the most stringent low carb diets will allow them.  And unlike foods such as peanuts or gluten containing foods, bananas are one of the rarest allergies, affecting less than 1% of the population (at least, according to a cursory Google search – I’ve never met anyone with a banana allergy myself).

I did also carry around some almonds and jerky, which may make good healthy additions and give you more variety to share – and snack on yourself!

It may sound silly, but I gave away about a half dozen bananas at the conference – and made some great friends in the process. While I’m not encouraging trying to quantify the ROI of relationships, it’s tough to argue with $4 total spent on six friendships!

So, try that out at your next conference – and if you want more tips, read on for 7 great networking tips you’ve probably heard before – but may not be doing =)

7 Great Networking  Tips You’ve Heard Before

There are some tips that you may have heard before, but they’re still great advice – and they make a good checklist to make sure you’re prepared to network before you leave.

#1 Bring Business Cards

Make them unique or memorable, but if nothing else, bring them!

One important thing to note – I prefer to list only my email address on my cards, because I don’t want to give out my phone number. Depending on the conference, this might be a bad idea. Since my professional work is software development and I primarily interact with people via email, I prefer to steer everyone in that direction.

#2 Make sure You Follow Up

This almost seems like a no-brainer to me, but it’s something I seldom see happen.  We’ll go to conferences, meet people and promise to follow up – and then we don’t!

To help remedy this, before you leave pencil in a few hours before you leave for following up. If the conference schedule isn’t too draining, you can even try writing up drafts of your follow up emails while at the conference itself, while the discussions you’ve had with people are fresh in your mind.

Quick tip: a shortcut to having an excuse to follow up? Take pictures/record video.

This is something I neglected to do (shame on me), however I think it’s one of the most effective ways of creating a reason to follow up with somebody.

If you meet someone at a conference, get their business card and take a picture with them, it provides an easy way to follow up with them via email without an agenda.

Note: depending on the conference, people may not like you putting the pictures up publicly on Facebook/Flickr etc.  At Blogworld people are open to it – at other conferences, it may be best to just email the picture directly to them.  Also a lot of people also did interviews and recorded video clips at Blogworld – you’ll have to decide whether that’s appropriate for your conference.

#3 Talk To People Next To You

There’s opportunity to meet people everywhere at conferences – before sessions, at Meals, or you can randomly accost them in the hallway.  I met a few people just by random chance this way.

Another person I met, Vik Tantry from There’s Money Everywhere, just randomly accosted me in the hall and said “Hey guys, what’s up?”.

#4 Research The Speakers – And Get Introduced To Their Network

This was easy for me at Blogworld, since I knew many of the speakers personally via email and Twitter.  I found out some of the sessions they were attending and engaged them before the conference on Twitter, via email and even on Skype.

When you build these connections, you don’t have to accost the speakers at the conference – they already know you.  However when they have a moment go ahead and introduce yourself, and since the speakers very often are influential in the field and have a wide reaching network, they will provide unsolicited introductions to other influential people at the conference for you, without you asking.

#5 Dress Uniquely

I wore a suit (unique at a blogging conference – maybe not so much at other conferences) and spiked up my hair just like I do in the picture on this website.  I was easy to recognize and didn’t blend in with other attendees – making it much more likely people would remember me.

Nametag Scott came wearing a massive nametag while Annabel Candy had a custom shirt made for her blog, Get In The Hot Spot.

If the conference is especially conservative and this isn’t an option (e.g., everyone is expected to wear a suit), you can try having a unique laptop bag, watch, or something else that stands out.

#6 Prepare Your Elevator Pitch

I’ll discuss this in detail later, but prepare an elevator pitch for what you do, and how YOU can help people is a great way to introduce yourself to people. Focus on the benefits.

For example, since I was at Blogworld my pitch was “I’m Sid Savara, I’m the cofounder of BlogcastFM – we provide three expert interviews a week on topics that help bloggers take their blog to the next level.  I can help you get exposure for your blog or product.”

If they sounded like a relative newcomer, rather that telling them about the benefits of being interviewed on BlogcastFM, I would instead say “We have over a hundred interviews in our archives that cover everything from growing your audience to creating your first product.”

#7 Organize Side Events

Another total accident. Farnoosh called me a connector in her post about The Splendor Of Community – but the truth is, I had originally just planned on organizing small lunches with a few of the people I’d wanted to chat with.  These ballooned into massive 12-20+ person meals, and provided a great opportunity to meet new people as well as chat with people I’d already met at the conference (or online!).  I suppose you could say I stole this tip from one of my favorite authors, Keith Ferrazi, who advises you to Never Eat Alone =)

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