If SPN Annual Meeting attendees had to pick a favorite aspect of the conference, most of them would tell you it’s the networking–and for good reason. SPN’s Annual Meeting gives attendees access to the wisdom of 1,300 people: policy and professional specialists from 325+ state-based and state-focused organizations, top-notch speakers, and many industry experts.

Here are a few of our best tips to make the most of the networking time:

1. Set your goals. Think about what you’d like to accomplish at Annual Meeting. What expertise are you looking to gain or provide to someone else? What partners, peers, or vendors would add value to your professional network? What organizations would you like to know better? Answering these questions can help you determine who to seek out during the conference.

2. Know what you can offer. Keith Ferrazzi, best-selling author of Never Eat Alone, said that networking “is about developing and sustaining relationships for the long haul. It’s not a linear action to ‘get something.'” While you may have your own networking goals, you can stand out by knowing and communicating the ways in which you can serve others. More doors can open for you when you approach networking as a chance to lend expertise, ideas, collaborative opportunities, or a listening ear to the other person.

3. Scope out the talent. Use the Annual Meeting App and the attendee roster, both launching in September 2018, to find out who will be at the conference. About 3-4 weeks prior to the conference, start reaching out to the people you would like to meet. And, don’t forget your business cards! Since the conference is still a few months away, put reminders on your calendar today to order more business cards and make networking appointments.

4. Work the schedule. Don’t let the schedule work you. Take time before the meeting to review the online agenda and plan how you will take advantage of networking breaks. The agenda includes several small-group sessions, receptions, and afternoon breaks that are perfect starting points for networking. More on that below.

5. Leave your comfort zone and talk to new people. Sit with different people at every meal, plenary, and session. Exchange business cards, and ask questions about their work, interests, etc. It’s easier to develop relationships when you find common ground or simply show genuine interest in who the other person is. Make quick notes about the people you meet and capture any follow-ups for after Annual Meeting. ProTip: We love the book, How to Work a Room, if you’re looking for ways to up your networking game.

6. Session like a boss. It’s tempting to check email during sessions, but resist that urge. Sessions are one of the most under-leveraged times to network. Sit next to someone new, introduce yourself, and ask why he or she chose this session. Your shared interest in the topic can open a door to conversation about each other’s work. Also, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to speakers afterward.

7. Present your best self. The little things matter. Pay attention to your posture when sitting or standing and avoid positions that appear closed off. In groups, always try to create space for new people to join in. When you meet someone, repeat his or her name back, and be present in your conversations (put the phone away!). Not only does this help the other person feel acknowledged and valued, but it also cements the person in your memory. Meaningful connections will lead to better memories, which helps to cultivate relationships later. And, of course, don’t forget to smile.

8. Plant seeds. Annual Meeting is full, so lengthy conversations may be difficult to fit in. Instead, have short initial conversations that open the door for follow-up and more in-depth conversation after the event.

9. Most importantly, listen. When you become a listener, you become an invaluable asset because everyone needs someone to listen to them. Too often, we focus on what we’re going to say. But when you listen intently, you learn what others know or need and discover how you might collaborate with or learn from them. Plus, people can sense when you’re present and authentic, and both these qualities are important for building relationships through networking.

10. Always Be Closing. Follow up with everyone you met during the conference. It can be as simple as following someone on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Or it could be something more involved—like an email, a handwritten note, or even a phone call. Go back to your business cards and notes and make sure to close the loop on your action items.

Don’t forget to register for the SPN 26th Annual Meeting so that you can experience all the great inspiration, learning, and networking we have planned for Salt Lake City. Go here to register.