6 tips on how to make the most of conferences in Africa

4. Step out of your comfort zone

Attending a conference or exhibition is not the time to be shy and reserved. Meet as many people as possible. Walk up to people, introduce yourself, exchange business cards. During lunchtime, go and sit next to someone you don’t know. Although not everyone you meet will be relevant for your business, you’ll never know until you’ve met them. And even if they are not of direct use, they might put you in contact with someone relevant within their network.

5. Be prepared

Take time to determine exactly what you expect to gain from an event. If you don’t know what you want to get out, it is likely that you won’t get anything out at all, and probably shouldn’t attend in the first place.

Most organisers will distribute a programme and list of delegates before the event. Go through the programme ahead of the time and indentify the sessions you would like to attend, as well as the delegates with whom you would like to network. Try to set up meetings with specific delegates in advance.

If possible, also try and ensure that you’ve dealt with all important and urgent work matters before leaving for the event. You don’t want to spend your entire time at the event on the phone with head office or with your eyes glued to your BlackBerry.

6. Follow up

Meeting hundreds of new people has little value if they can’t remember you. It is therefore essential to follow-up via a simple email after the event.

Guy Lundy, CEO of think tank Accelerate Cape Town, says it is important to keep track of people you’ve met. “In the last five years I have given away over 2,000 business cards, which means that I received at least 2,000 business cards. That is how one builds a network because you are then put in touch with more people as you go forward. Of course, collecting business cards on its own, only gets you so far. It is what you do with those business cards. When you have gained over 2,000 business cards, it is very likely that by the time you get to 2,000 you would have forgotten what number one was. What I try to do as often as I can is write on that business card where I networked with that person, what we spoke about, what they do, and why they might be important to me at some point in the future.”