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By Colleen Riccinto
Mon | Feb 27, 2017 | 10:19 AM PST

. . . and tips for everyone else to grow their network too.

If you’re an introvert, the mere thought of attending a conference can overwhelm you. Before you’ve had your morning coffee and pastry sponsored by XYZ Security, you’re already basking in the thought of being alone in the car on the way home where you can just breathe.  The commotion, the stimulation, and a bunch of people running around acting important and having meaningless conversations is not your idea of a good time.

I get it, and I’m right there with you. If such a thing as an introverted recruiter exists, that’s me. I love being around people and am energized by them. At the same time, you can stick a fork in me after being in a large group of people for several hours. I’m done. 

I’m one of those rare people called ambiverts, which is a combination of both introvert and extrovert tendencies. Because of my connection to both temperaments, I hope I can help folks make their networking at conferences more productive—especially my introverted friends. 

Check out these 5 tips to grow your network at security conferences.

Tip #1: Act with intention
Clarify your goals for attending the conference and plan your time and conversations accordingly. Read over the conference agenda and speaker bios with a purpose in mind. Are you looking to delve deeper into a specific subject? Trying to connect with colleagues facing a similar challenge? Whatever your purpose is, seek out the sessions and speakers who can help you the most. 

Contact speakers in advance of their presentations. Mention a specific topic of interest and get their permission to follow up. Speakers work hard to prepare their presentations, and they love to know of an audience member’s interest. By contacting them ahead of time and getting their permission to follow up, you’re laying the groundwork for a long-term, professional relationship.

Tip #2: Be brief
A friend of mine taught me the five B’s in business a while ago, and they’ve always stuck with me. “Be brief, baby, be brief.” There’s nothing worse than waiting in line to approach a speaker after their session and listening to the person in front of you go on, and on, and on. The tension is palpable. You don’t want to be that person. 

When you approach someone that you’d like to establish contact with, be friendly, be confident, and most importantly, be brief! Introduce yourself, explain why you’d like to follow up with them, exchange cards, and quickly establish a time and communication method to connect again. By being brief and professional, your colleague will be open to keeping in touch because you’ve been respectful of their time.

Tip #3: Leave the herd
How many times have you been at a lunch table during a conference and had the following happen? After everyone politely introduces themselves, the conversation quickly breaks up into pre-determined groups of people who already know each other. Once lunch has ended, everyone exchanges pleasantries like they’ve had a made a new best friend and goes on their merry way. 

We go to conferences to network and meet new people, right? Be mindful of how much time you’re spending with people that you already know, so you can create opportunities to meet new people. I challenge you to sit a lunch table with a group of complete strangers at the next conference you attend. Leave the herd and get a new one.

Tip #4: Master small talk
To introverts, small talk can seem phony, insincere, and a complete was of time. The mantra of security-minded introverts could be, “I tweet; therefore I am.” To grow your network at conferences, you’ve got to be able to strike up a conversation with the person next to you.

Here’s how. Approach someone, smile, extend your right hand, and say, “Hi, my name is....” Your conversation partner will naturally shake your hand and respond with their name. Bingo. You’ve now started a conversation. Move it along by asking a simple question like, “What have you found most interesting at the conference so far?” Keep the conversation going by centering it around the acronym FORM, which stands for family, occupation, recreation, and motivation.

Tip #5: Follow up
How many times have we cleaned out our wallets or desk drawers and found a handful of business cards with only a vague recollection of the person of conversation? For most of us, too many. To make the most of the connections that you’ve established at the conference, follow up right away—that evening or the following morning. This shows that you’re serious, professional, and prompt. 

Keep the message brief. Acknowledge meeting them, re-cap the conversation, and discuss next steps. People will be surprised and impressed to hear from you so quickly. Everyone likes to feel important. By following up with the people that you meet, you provide validation of their knowledge and the foundation for building a relationship. Taking the time to attend the conference and meet people is just the beginning. It’s the follow up that counts. Follow up, and then follow up again.