Attending conferences and expos on behalf of your company is often an expensive undertaking. Between admission to the trade show, materials for your booth, lodging for the staff, and perhaps even a spot as a sponsor, attending events like these often requires substantial investment on behalf of your business. The benefit is that rarely will you find a higher concentration of your company’s core prospects in one location, available and even eager to connect with companies like yours about doing business. So how do you make sure that you capitalize on this opportunity and ensure that your company makes a profitable return on its investment? Here are 5 tips for how to get more business from conferences and networking events:

1. Get people to talk about their favorite subjects — themselves — and listen.

People almost universally love to talk about themselves. Use this to your advantage by preparing a series of questions to ask prospects that you meet about themselves and their companies.

Your objectives with these questions are twofold. First, you want to build a rapport with the prospect by engaging them in conversation. Second, you want to gather some intelligence about what they do so you can effectively pitch them your company’s products or services later. You want them to feel good about their answers, too, so that they are in a good mood when you transition to selling them your company’s offerings and will be more likely to buy.

For example, you can plan to ask prospects what their biggest success was last year in the area your company offers its products or services, and also what are they looking to do in that area this year. Later you can use the responses to these questions to explain how your company can help them meet their goals.

2. Talk to other people about what they want, and show them how to get it.

Most companies at networking events spend almost all of their time talking about themselves. They talk about their products and services, how great their board of directors is, or how they have a high-powered investment firm backing their latest round of financing. The problem is none of this really matters to the prospects they will be talking to.

The most important question that your prospects will be asking themselves when they meet you at an expo is “how can this person help me improve my business or my life?” To be successful, you should be talking about your prospect as much as possible, and only mentioning yourself as an example of how you can help them. Whenever possible, make sure to tie the conversation back to how your company will help the prospect get what they want, instead of focusing on yourself.

3. Smile.

While smiling is a simple and often-mentioned tactic for networking events, the reason it comes up so frequently is because it’s effective. Unfortunately it’s also easy to forget in the whirlwind of action at a conference or expo. Here are some ideas to help you remember to smile:

  • Set a vibrating alarm in your phone to remind you ever so often to smile. You don’t want the alarm going off audibly though, since it might go off at the wrong time and embarrass you.
  • If you are attending with a coworker, make them your accountability partner and point out to each other if you’re not smiling.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. It’s a lot harder to smile and be cheerful and outgoing if you’re tired.

4. Precede persuasion with empathy.

When you transition from building a rapport with your prospect to pitching your products or services, eventually you’re going to meet with reluctant buyers. The last thing you want to do is get confrontational and undermine all of the time you spent building rapport with the prospect. Instead, use the following script to empathize with their side, show you understand their concern, and then reframe the discussion to help them get past their sticking point.

“I can understand why you would feel that way. Many of our other customers felt the same way at this point in the discussion. However, after they realized [key value about your product or service] they [give details about how their opinion changed in your favor].

This script will make the prospect feel like you are willing to listen to them and their needs, that you understand where they are coming from, and at the same time convince them that the sticking point they’re facing is common and other companies like theirs have gotten past it by buying from you.

5. Use their first name.

Another quick way to build rapport with someone is to call them by their first name. Usually people will wear nametags at conferences, so that helps eliminate the need to memorize them. Sometimes it still takes a while to get comfortable doing this though, so it can help to practice with your friends and coworkers the week before the conference. Get used to calling people you know already by their first names, and it will make it easier for you to be comfortable doing it with new acquaintances at the conference or expo.

What tips do you have for successful networking at conferences and expos? Share with us in the comments!