At the end of July, I attended the 103rd IAI International Forensics Educational Conference in San Antonio. The International Association for Identification (IAI) is the oldest and largest forensic association in the world and aims to educate, share, critique and publish methods, techniques and research in the physical forensic science disciplines

My attendance may seem a rather odd choice given my background in public relations and marketing, but my significant other is a crime scene analyst, and I have always been curious and eager to learn new things outside of my wheelhouse.

I wasn’t disappointed. The lectures were intriguing, and the workshops were fascinating, but even more so were the people. There were around 1,300 people from all over the world with diverse knowledge, skills and expertise. This provided a fantastic opportunity to talk about my career, public relations in general and Cooksey Communications.

Having the opportunity to talk to people who haven’t ever considered a public relations campaign, analyzed strategies and tactics or discussed social media content development was refreshing. While they were telling me stories about cold cases they cracked after 20-plus years or how they helped rehabilitate a victim of domestic violence, I was talking shop about the daily things we do for our clients, from drafting thought leadership articles and speeches to developing social media content to conducting media outreach, event management and crisis communications.

Without a doubt, the back and forth of these conversations was a little odd, but intriguing for both parties. I ended up passing out quite a few business cards after they found out we have experience writing speeches, thought leadership articles and award nominations.

All this being said, it is important to remember that networking (regardless of the type of conference) can lead to new relationships and potential business opportunities, and it is a crucial skill for your career.

Below are five tips that will help you connect and grow your network the next time you are at a conference.

Arrive early and practice your introduction.

Before you go, make sure you practice your elevator pitch and cover the basics: who you are, what you do and why you are attending this conference. It is guaranteed that you will be asked at least one of these questions at the very beginning, so rehearsing your answers ahead of time will allow you to gather your thoughts into coherent responses.

If possible, try to arrive early and stand near an area that people tend to congregate like the registration table, entrance or food. This is a great time to seek a friendly connection with solo attendees. This is also a good time to approach and introduce yourself to sponsors and vendors.

Talk to strangers and be personable.

For the most part, especially at an industry-related conference, everyone is there for the same reason and share a common interest, so don’t be afraid to go up to a stranger and strike up a conversation. One way to break the ice is to ask someone after a lecture or workshop their thoughts on a particular speaker or something new they learned that day.

Also, after you have been introduced, remember to use a person’s first name when you are speaking to them. Not only will you come off as amiable, it will also help you remember their name.

Express interest and ask questions.

Make sure to keep the focus on them for most of the conversation. Ask questions, and actively listen to their answers. Eye contact and body language also play an important role, so be sure you face them and focus on their face.

Take notes and follow up afterwards.

After meeting someone, make sure to ask for their business card and, if possible, jot down a few notes about the conversation to refer to later. Remember to bring your own business cards as well!

Follow up with everyone you met at the conference promptly. Send them a friendly email and remind them what you discussed, examples of your work or an interesting article, and remember to also connect with them on LinkedIn, if appropriate. If they are in the area or are going to be in the future, set up an agenda-free coffee meeting.

Always have solid networking goals in mind when you attend a conference. If you follow these tips, you’ll be able to get more out of the conferences, workshops or trade shows you attend.

A Cooksey Staff Member