The next few months bring a variety of trade shows, conferences, conventions and summits focused on the real estate industry (ahem! ICNY) and offering the opportunity to research, learn, and most of all, connect.

The next few months bring a variety of trade shows, conferences, conventions and summits focused on the real estate industry (ahem! ICNY) and offering the opportunity to research, learn, and most of all, connect.

For most people, the rationale for attending such events is that the networking opportunities at meetings like these are second to none.

That’s great for those naturally brave souls who never meet a stranger. Real estate agents and brokers are known for being a gregarious bunch, so many real estate-related events offer plenty of sessions centered on networking and face time.

But for those of us who are more comfortable talking to others by email or text and who find it hard to walk into a room and dazzle, these events may seem to be a waste of time.

After all, what’s the point of going in and standing off to the side, watching others network while we try to get up the nerve to talk to one or two people? Better just skip it.

Don’t give up!

With a little preparation and planning, you too can create valuable networking opportunities at one of this year’s conferences, even if small talk is your kryptonite. Here’s how.

1. Put the focus on the other person

If you are an introvert surrounded by extroverts, you can be sure of one thing — they love to talk about themselves. In a room full of connectors, everyone is looking for someone to show interest, so asking what they’re up to or what they’ve learned that day is a great ice-breaker.

But your work is not done once you’ve asked them about themselves — you have to listen, too.

Active listening — asking follow-up questions, clarifying points, asking for explanations — shows you’re interested and offers you opportunities to jump in and contribute to the conversation.

This is the essence of networking — finding out where your interests and businesses converge and how you can help each other.

2. Practice your elevator pitch

When it’s time to talk about yourself and your business, you’ll feel much better if you’ve practiced a little something ahead of time.

Come up with a quick description of who you are and what you’re working on — and practice it so that you can rattle it off when it’s time to introduce yourself.

Bonus points if you add an interesting little tidbit or detail to generate questions and conversation with your partner.

3. Connect ahead of time

If you’re active on social media, you’ll find lots of people talking about the conference or meeting in the days leading up to it, either as they register, make travel plans or when they are on the way.

Find out what hashtags and handles are being used for the meeting and become active in the conversations — take a photo of your event tickets when they arrive, check in at the airport or reach out to one of the speakers and say how much you are looking forward to his or her session.

Comment on other people’s posts as well — you may find that you can start a conversation ahead of time, which will make it easier to connect and network IRL once you arrive.

4. Make notes and follow up

When you talk to someone — especially if you make a connection and find some mutual interests — make a note on their business card or on your phone after they walk away, then follow up each night of the conference with an email or connect with them on LinkedIn.

Let them know how much you enjoyed the opportunity to talk and mention something specific from your conversation. This deepens your connection and may spark an opportunity to refer business or collaborate after the conference is over.

You may not be a natural when it comes to networking, but with a little preparation, you can be just as effective as your more outgoing colleagues.

The potential rewards of a successful meet-up make it totally worth it, and you may even find a smart strategy will help bring you out of your shell and make you the life of the party at your next conference.

Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook or Twitter

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