5 Tips for Effective Conference Networking

In-person conference attendance is expected to grow by 10% to 20% this year. How to maximize these great opportunities to expand your network.

More and more people are roaming the halls and event spaces at corporate and industry conferences—but not all of them have come for the panels and speakers. Some are there to find their next job.

In-person conference attendance is exploding, accounting for more than 60% of events this year, according to one survey. More than two-thirds of event planners in another survey expect in-person conference attendance to grow between 10% and 20% over 2024. “People are going out of their way to connect in person again,” says Alison Harrigan, head of the Hospitality, Travel, and Leisure practice at Korn Ferry.

Experts say the growth in attendance can be partly attributed to the job market. Networking remains the best way to find a job—it’s how upwards of 80% of positions are filled—and amid the employment frenzy, people are incorporating conferences into their search process. As the labor market tightens and the conference season ramps up again in the fall, that trend is likely to continue. We asked our experts for their most effective conference networking tips; here’s what they said.

Define your goals.

Most people fail to set clear objectives for what they hope to get from attending a conference, says Harrigan. Is the goal to get a new job? Is it to learn about a particular company or leader? Or do you just want to make industry connections for the future? “Understanding your priorities will help you narrow in on who you want to meet and why,” says Harrigan. 

Get the guest list.

One tip Nicson White says he learned early in his career was to check out the attendee roster in advance. White, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Life Sciences Advisory practice, makes a list of people he deems “must-meets” and researches them on LinkedIn and elsewhere to get a sense of their priorities. “I typically start reaching out about a month in advance to try to get on their schedule at the conference,” says White.

Get the word out.

Whether you have the guest list or not, let your manager and colleagues (or former colleagues) know about the conference and ask if they can provide introductions or recommend people to meet, says Harrigan. A few weeks in advance, start commenting on social media about news and trends relevant to the event, or topics and speakers you find especially exciting. Asking people at the event who they’re interested in meeting, or who they’ve most enjoyed meeting, is a great icebreaker and networking tactic as well.

Find a hook.

“Ensure you have a relevant hook for each meeting or request,” says White. In other words, don’t approach people with a vague request to grab a coffee or pick their brains. Instead, establish a basis for connecting. Identify existing work or relevant trends that tie into their needs and interests. Try to offer value in the way of resources or a referral.

Get a second meeting at the first.

The most common mistake people make when networking is failing to schedule a second meeting. They leave things open-ended or suggest meeting again in a follow-up or thank-you note, without offering specific days and times. Using that approach, a candidate is just one of many people on a list competing for time and attention. Instead, White suggests scheduling a follow-up meeting, where appropriate, at the end of the first one. “You always want to book the next meeting in person,” he says. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.