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EVENTS | Jun 17

Event – 46th AIO Conference 2019

Successful networking at the AIO conference

Being able to make genuine connections is vital for building successful business relationships. Here are RFIB’s five top tips for effective networking as we prepare for the 46th Conference and Annual General Assembly of the African Insurance Organisation in Johannesburg, from 9th June 2019.

Do Your Homework.

Whether you’re a conference veteran or it’s your first time at an industry event, if you want to network successfully at any conference then it pays to do some preparation in advance.

It’s worth reading the conference brochure or website ahead of your trip – you could even do this on your journey to the conference to maximise your time. Decide which talks and events to go to, work out who might be where, and when would be an opportune moment to catch them. For example, if someone is giving a keynote address, they might not be available – or in the mood – for a chat beforehand, but much more receptive afterwards.

When you arrive, get a map and familiarise yourself with the layout of the exhibition space and the refreshments areas. Most conferences open with introductory speeches so there’s not much chance to network then, but once the first tea break comes the delegates and speakers will begin mingling and you can make a start.

Use teamwork to your advantage.

With everyone’s time at a premium, networking at conferences needs to be strategic. Liaise with your colleagues to cover key talks or events between you and share useful contacts with the rest of your team.

LinkedIn is a great to find out if anyone you don’t know – but would like to meet – is already connected to any of your existing contacts. Reach out to your established network before the conference to ask if anyone is willing to set up an introduction.

If you already have a relationship with someone you think the rest of your team should meet, schedule in a group coffee break with them ahead of time and introduce everyone all in one go.

Conferences entail meeting a huge number of people in a short space of time, which can make it hard to remember everyone’s name, even if you’ve just been introduced. To save any embarrassment and make it as easy as possible, ensure you wear your name badge and it’s easily visible.

Start the conversation.

When it comes to successful networking, there are no gains to be made by being backwards at coming forwards. Super-charge your networking skills in time for the 46th AIO Conference and be the one to take the initiative.

At any conference there will be those who look like they know exactly what they are doing, but also the first timers or people who just don’t feel that comfortable with networking. If you are one of the latter then you are alone, and others will thank you for making the effort.

One key points of attending conferences is to meet people and make new connections. Plus, you already have business in common, so you shouldn’t find too many people who aren’t receptive if you start a conversation.

If you are really stuck then questions are easy conversation-starters, as they give the other person the chance to engage. Tuck a couple of these up your sleeve in case of emergency:

  • What did you think of that last speaker?
  • Are you going to any particular sessions?
  • What do you think is standing out as the ‘hot topic’ today?

On the other hand, don’t waste anyone’s time. There’s only so many conversations you can have, and so few days in which to have them. If you are going to specifically seek someone out have a definite objective in mind, whether that’s asking them more about a particular issue or because you want to develop your professional relationship.

Manners in Johannesburg at AIO

Wherever in the world you go, people expect and respond to a general level of good manners from anyone they are doing business with. If you have any doubts about the cultural etiquette of the area you are travelling to, a quick internet search will get you up to speed.

When it comes to conferences, people are often pushed for time, and those who are particularly popular can also be inundated by others wanting to talk to them.

In the rush between meetings or speaker sessions it can feel imperative to pin down a particular person you want to talk to at all costs but bide your time. We all know how irritating it is when someone butts into a conversation, so choose your moment if you’re looking to speak to someone who’s already engaged. You may only be able to make a quick request to call them later, but if you do it politely that’s fine.

If you are on the receiving end of a conversation that you need to draw to a close without appearing rude, say something simple like “I have to go to another stand/to speak to another colleague now; it’s been great talking to you”, or “it’s been really interesting talking to you but I ought to circulate; I hope you enjoy the conference”.

Follow up and follow through.

Keep in touch with the contacts you make. The end of a conference is marked by many things – a gala dinner perhaps, and maybe a touch of jetlag, not to mention a stack of business cards to take home and sort through. This tiny piece of card might be the only thing that reminds you of your first meeting with a potential contact or client, so don’t let it get shoved in a pile when you get back to your desk because you can’t remember who gave it to you, or why.

When someone gives you their business card take a moment to read it and ask them which of their contact details is the best to reach them on. You can end up with hundreds of cards after an event, so if you take one from someone make a note on the back of what you talked about, but wait until they’ve gone before you do so because in some parts of the world it’s considered rude to write on a business card you’ve been given.

Once you get back to your office there’s the further challenge of collating all the cards and adding the information to your existing contact database. There are various apps available that will scan each card and create a digital contact from that. Indeed, at a recent conference in North America our international team found when they handed out business cards these were not only scanned but then handed back. Once the recipient had the details, they didn’t need the physical card itself, so this is a great way to minimise paperwork on your return and ensure you’ve got the information you need at your fingertips.

And most importantly, if you’ve taken someone’s card and agreed that a follow-up email is required or extend an invitation to stay in touch via social media, follow through with that promise and stay in touch.

This will be RFIB’s 10th year at the AIO Conference (http://african-insurance.org/aio-events/46th-aio-conference-and-annual-general-assembly/) and our international team has pockets bulging with business cards to give out, so do come and say hello if you see us there.