I spent 3 days at trade shows this week. I handed out over 100 business cards. I've received no more than a handful of reach outs.
Why? Because people don't understand the importance of throwing one's self out there. And because people suck at networking. Absolutely stupendously suck at it.
Why do people suck at networking? Well, they're overwhelmed. After a trade show, people usually leave with 30+ business cards. I tend to leave trade shows with over 100 business cards. People look at the stack, and are so overwhelmed that they never reach out to anyone. Writing 30 emails to strangers takes a lot of time and courage.
So here's my trick to maximizing the effectiveness of trade shows: don't put yourself in a position where you'll be overwhelmed. How do you do that? There're 2 steps:
1) Email people the day you meet them. Do not wait until 2 or even 3 days after the show. They will have forgotten about you and regressed to the monotony of their own lives. Emailing the day of also reduces the likelihood that you'll feel overwhelmed, and empowers you to write a better email. You will remember a surprising number of details about your conversation that you can include if you write the email the day of. Sleeping even one night will wipe a remarkable amount of information from your memory.
This is particularly difficult to do since trade show culture encourages rampant drinking after hours. Don't get drunk. Drink, but stay sober, and write those emails the night of!
2) Each night, before emailing anyone, separate the cards into two stacks: important, and not important. That will allow you focus your energy on the most important individuals first. Write a custom email to each of them that
A) Recaps the conversation
B) Offers help. If you make "asks" and don't offer anything in return, you won't get anything.
C) Most importantly, ask them a question. You must keep the conversation going at all costs.
You can include some copy-pasted text to provide some background information on your company, but there should be at least 2 uniquely written sentences, if not a whole paragraph, per person. For the unimportant people, a copy-pasted email should suffice.