Over the years, I have grown significantly as an owner and operator by attending AB Show and other industry events. While I’ve been fortunate to also present at these events, I always take in as many education sessions, workshops, panels, and trade show exhibits and demonstrations as I can. Fitness professionals who are serious about their craft do the same.
Growing through constant learning is essential for success. While the educational component of events such as AB Show are great personal- and professional-development opportunities, another aspect of these events offers tremendous benefits, as well. That is the oft-overlooked opportunity to expand your network.
Networking at conferences and events offers attendees an invaluable opportunity to enhance their professional knowledge and create a supportive network of like-minded individuals. For me, strategic networking at such events has been transformative. It has led to essential support for my current businesses, opened doors to new business opportunities, and resulted in lifelong friendships. My connections have enriched my professional journey and provided a strong foundation of camaraderie and collaboration.
Here are four practical tips — based on how I’ve approached and leveraged live events — to help you make the most of your networking efforts:
1. Participate in group activities
AB Show and most conferences organize group activities, networking events or social gatherings. Put them on your calendar and attend them. Embrace these opportunities to mingle with fellow attendees in a more relaxed setting. Engage in group discussions, join interactive workshops, and attend networking receptions. These activities provide a casual platform to bond with others and foster connections beyond the professional realm.
By actively participating in these group activities, you open the door to serendipitous encounters and the chance to forge relationships that could lead to collaborations, partnerships and even friendships that extend far beyond the event. These interactions can catalyze shared projects, innovative ventures and a network of support that lasts well into the future.
I am co-authoring a textbook called Fitness Facility Management with an industry leader I met at the AB Show welcome reception a few years ago. Never underestimate the potential of these moments. They could be the spark that ignites your next great endeavor.
2. Be authentic and open
Authenticity is the cornerstone of building genuine relationships. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to share your experiences and challenges when networking.
One powerful way to exemplify this is by sharing personal stories that reveal your vulnerabilities. I recall a time when I faced a challenging situation involving a member accused of wrongdoing, but I lacked concrete evidence to address it effectively. During the closing ceremonies of an event, I had the privilege of speaking to an industry pioneer and shared my predicament. His advice was invaluable. Not only did his guidance provide a practical solution that worked remarkably well, it also demonstrated the importance of authenticity and openness in seeking advice.
My story, best suited for a conversation at a conference reception, illustrates a moment of struggle that I overcame. I was honest about my inexperience and uncertainty in handling such matters, and only then was I sufficiently open to receive the intelligence I needed from another individual.
The more authentic and open you are willing to be, the more benefits you will reap from networking.
3. Utilize social media
In today’s digital age, social media can be a powerful tool for expanding your network beyond the physical confines and time constraints of an event. Leverage social media platforms to connect with other attendees before, during and after the event.
Engaging online can help break the ice and initiate subsequent face-to-face conversations at the event, making in-person networking more approachable and enjoyable. Many conferences have dedicated event hashtags or online communities that allow attendees to interact and share insights in real time as an event is happening. Moreover, I have found remarkable success by using platforms such as LinkedIn to reconnect with people after I’ve met them at events.
One instance that stands out involved a chance meeting with the owner of a chain of climbing gyms. He attended my session on leadership, which he enjoyed. We exchanged business cards. After the event, I reconnected with the owner on LinkedIn and sent a brief message expressing my pleasure in meeting him. To my surprise, he replied with enthusiasm, expressing gratitude that I had reached out. Our conversation evolved, and he eventually proposed that I conduct a leadership training workshop for his team. What began as a simple follow-up message led to a substantial consulting opportunity that was both unexpected and highly rewarding.
This example highlights how leveraging social media as a networking tool can extend the value of your event attendance far beyond initial introductions.
4. Follow up and stay engaged
After events, the true potential of your networking efforts unfolds in the follow-up. It’s here that you can nurture the seeds of connection that you planted during the event. Don’t let these relationships stagnate. Instead, invest time and effort in maintaining them.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some incredible individuals through networking at events. These encounters have often led to more than just professional connections — they’ve fostered genuine friendships that transcend industry boundaries.
One notable example was during the tumultuous times of the 2020 pandemic. A group of us who had met and connected through various events before the crisis decided to come together online every Thursday night during lockdown. Our discussions spanned from business challenges to personal struggles, offering both a lifeline for our facilities and a much-needed outlet for our mental wellbeing. We kept this tradition alive for nearly a year and a half, and the outcome was beyond gratifying. We not only weathered the storm together, but emerged as the closest of friends, united by shared experiences and a profound sense of camaraderie. We nicknamed the group the “Fit Biz Fam” and still have a Slack channel, meet occasionally on Zoom or text thread, and we always connect at live events for a special dinner.
In your efforts to stay engaged with your network, consider the power of consistent communication. Remember, the bonds you establish might evolve into partnerships, collaborations or enduring friendships that enrich both your professional journey and your personal life.
In the fast-paced world of fitness and business, relationships are as vital as skills. Tap into the power of networking at any event you attend. As you feed off a live event’s energy, appreciate how conversations there could steer your personal and professional paths moving forward.
And as you navigate AB Show 2023 in Baltimore, treat each networking opportunity as a potential breakthrough. It can truly shape your future endeavors in ways you might never have imagined.