Liyema’s Guide to Navigating Conferences



There is something to be said about success that is achieved through a combined effort. After all, it is believed that if you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.


So how do you pitch yourself as an effective ‘team member’ to corporations you want to do business with?


Networking seems to be the simplest answer. If you can get your business card in a powerful CEO’s rolodex or score a retweet from a brand you’ve followed for years, then you’ve done well right?
That’s not necessarily true. Liyema’s very own Samantha Kgabi and Lerato Erasmus attended the fourth annual WEConnect International South Africa conference on 22 February, 2019 and both admitted that networking is like a muscle that needs constant exercise in order to be strengthened.


Jean Chawapiwa addressing the conference attendees

Which is why Jean Chawapiwa believes spaces that encourage women in business are so important. “This year’s conference saw our first WEConnect Awards, where we identified and celebrated several champions setting an example for other women to follow,” the Country Director for WEConnect International in South Africa said. We asked her if she had any tips and tricks to networking. She said, “Know your business. When you go into the networking space, you need to have a clear understanding of your business model because then you’ll know what it needs and that will give you a better idea of who you approach and what to ask.”


In November, 2018, a few Liyema staff members attended the WEConnect International Europe Conference where women business enterprises were brought together to be celebrated, inspired, and form partnerships. What happened at the Sandton venue last month was much of the same, except this conference’s themes were “Collaborating 4 Business Growth” and “New Markets – Innovations.”


So we caught up with Sam and Lerato to get their take on networking at events such as these, and how to follow-up once the connection has been made:


Q: How do you prep for a conference?

Sam: It requires a lot of research. We (Liyema, Joburg) looked up all the attending companies to get a sense of what and how they were doing in the market. We tried to gauge which direction they are headed, what their strategies are and how we might fulfill the needs of their company.
We did the same research into the company representatives so we were in a better place to steer the conversation.

Lerato: We (Liyema, Cape Town) decided on a strategy for 2019. We reminded ourselves who we’d worked with previously, identified companies we could see a good fit with, then spent time understanding whether we were capacitated to provide for those companies.


Q: Do you go in with a specific game plan?

Sam: You need to be able to speak the same language as the people you want to appeal to. If you’re going to be speaking to a tech company, are you confident enough to hold a conversation using their industry’s jargon?


Q: How do you suggest people make a good first impression when networking?

Sam: Learn new ways to spark a conversation. Be creative. Be natural. I still go in nervous and warm into it because I remind myself that the same fears I have, some of the people representing the big companies have them too.

Lerato: It’s critical to listen. The member companies, given a chance to present, will often crack jokes or share their business model. These make for great talking points.

Liyema Team Members: Antoinette Mukwebo, Samantha Kgabi and Sithandiwe Bobo


Q: What comes next? When is the appropriate time to touch base and how do you do it?

Sam: The best time to reach out is during the conference. At the end of a day, I typically send out connection requests via LinkedIn. You don’t want to give anyone the chance to forget you and it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sending an email to remind a person about what you discussed is important to do eventually too.

Lerato: Always send a formal email two weeks after the conference. I’d suggest giving people breathing time because they’re having to play catch up. Email them immediately and you’ll most likely get lost in the inundation of things they’re trying to get through.
When you do follow up, be clear about your intention. From the first engagement, remind them who you are, make actionable plans to connect face-to-face or via the phone, and state why, so you’re not wasting anyone’s time.


Lerato Erasmus and Iman Rapetti

Q: How do you reach out to people you didn’t get a chance to speak with but know were at the conference?

Lerato: What we typically do is try get picture moments. Someone we want to connect with might have been standing behind us or they were in the background of a selfie. We tag them on social media to make a link. It’s a quirky way to connect that keeps you in someone’s periphery.

As both women reminisce about the lessons they’ve learned regarding networking and following-up after the conference, Lerato highlights the importance of authenticity. “Regardless of what level you’re in professionally, you’ll find your interactions with people are more fruitful when you are yourself,” she explains. “I always like to approach networking in a manner of giving,” Sam shares. “It’s always so refreshing when you are in conversation with someone and you ask, ‘What can I do for you?’

People respond better to questions like, “How do you think I can help you get ahead?’ better than they would if you made everything about yourself,” she adds.

When it comes to following up, Sam urges that consistency and persistence are key. “When you network, and want to continue communication, you have to do it as frequently as possible. Set a diary reminder if you have to, she says in closing.


For more information about WEConnect International South Africa, go to :