This week I’m headed to the Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis, and it got me thinking about all the networking that will happen. Confession: I love conferences because I’m an extrovert who loves nothing more than to meet everyone in the room, however, not everyone thinks positively when faced with a crowd of new faces, cocktail parties and keynotes.

We all need to attend a professional conference once in a while. Not only do they provide the opportunity to learn more about your profession, but they can be great places to meet new contacts that can help you get connected, find a new job, or land a new client.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started networking at your next conference like a pro:

  1. Change your mindset. Instead of worrying whether people will like you or that you may be rejected, plant your reason for networking firmly in your mind. Are you looking for a new job? New clients? There will always be someone who doesn’t particularly like you or want to talk with you, but you can brush off those events by remembering how networking will help you accomplish your goal.
  2. Listen more than you talk. I’ve made the mistake of coming on too strong and talking too much, anxious that I won’t be able to get what I want to say out there. That first impression is the most important impression, and listening, asking questions, and genuinely being interested in others will establish you as someone others want to meet.
  3. Don’t always hang with your colleagues from work. This can provide a safety net if you are shy, but you see them most every day, so try sitting with a new group of people at a lunch or a keynote and introduce yourself.
  4. Enlist your friends. If you know anyone at the conference, be sure to spend time with them to solidify that relationship, and don’t be shy about asking them to introduce you to someone they know. Most of us are happy to do that for a friend, but be sure you don’t take undue advantage of the opportunity. I was once asked to introduce an acquaintance to my Archbishop. She had lived in our archdiocese previously, and simply stated that she wanted to meet him, however, as soon as the introductions were made, she whipped out a program that she was representing and asked him to institute it in our archdiocese! Needless to say, she violated my trust, and I won’t be introducing her to anyone else soon.
  5. You won’t live or die by this conference. Be yourself, stand tall and be confident, laugh and listen.

Sherry Brownrigg is senior partner specializing in marketing and communications.

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