Do your research in advance
Get the most current list of attendees and spend time on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Facebook, their websites, et al, to be as informed as possible in advance of meeting them. Take note of information regarding their industry, products or services, guiding principles, mission statements, careers, etc. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for going into these events without significant business intelligence regarding the occupants of each booth.
Assemble your “package”
Have adequate professional copies of your resume. Consider having business cards (you can get some free at www.vistaprint.com, or print your own with card stock) to trade with contacts. Use a briefcase or portfolio to carry your career “paperwork.” If appropriate, have samples of your work to share, letters of recommendation, perhaps even a list of references. Be sure you have adequate materials to take notes and record impressions. Also, dress and comport yourself conservatively and professionally. If you do so, you are likely to stand out from the crowd. Treat each interaction with every individual as an opportunity to impress them. Don’t be aggressive, however, just be polished.
Plan your attack
Based on the list of companies or organizations you have gathered, identify your key targets for making contact. Upon arrival, note any changes or additions to the attendees and adjust your activity accordingly. Plans are useful, but be open for a serendipitous meeting as well. I have a client who secured very useful information on a company not from their representative (no one was there at the time) but from a former co-worker who was packing up the company display in a nearby booth and happened to know someone who had worked at the target company. Now THAT’s serendipity!
Make a great first impression all day
You are constantly making a first impression, even as you round the corner to saunter down the next aisle. Don’t forget it. Always make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, ask intelligent questions, etc. Every person you meet, pass by, network or interview with is getting an impression of you as a employee, a peer, a customer, or a resource. Make sure it’s a good one.
Tap into that wealth of information you have gleaned from the business cards you’ve gathered and the copious notes you’ve taken to send a personalized follow up email or handwritten note to everyone you meet. The best time for them think of you again is within 24 hours of when they first met you. If you’re on LinkedIn, seek them out and request a connection. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn! If they are online themselves, investigate their groups and connections to expand your personal network. Be sure your follow up to them references your interaction in a professional yet personal way (after all, that’s why you took notes, right?!).
Finally, continue to nurture build on these new contacts to increase your visibility and create opportunities for success.