They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that is true too for TexSom, one of the U.S.’s largest wine trade conferences. I was fortunate to attend this year with the purpose of networking with the 3,200 sommeliers, importers, buyers and media in attendance. As someone who loves wine, it was a dream opportunity to learn about and discuss wines from around the world in one place. But as a first-time TexSom attendee, it was intimidating to be thrown into what’s been called the “wine professionals’ pilgrimage.”

Networking doesn’t come to me easily, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. But in an industry like marketing, the benefits of networking can’t be ignored. While at TexSom, I practiced a few tricks to make networking feel less like work:

Reach out before the conference: As publicists, we email media on the daily that we don’t always have the luxury of being able to meet in-person. Since TexSom brought a lot of those contacts in one place, I wanted to make sure they knew I was going to be there. By reaching out to contacts beforehand with a quick note asking if they were going, I was able to gather a list of who I needed to find at the conference, arrange a few meetings beforehand, and nail down topics I wanted to talk about.

Prepare for busy schedule: Like with any conference, TexSom attendees are busy. They are jumping to seminars, lunches and their own meetings. You may have dinner planned with somebody (as in my case) but have to change to a quick coffee instead – and that’s all okay! Getting facetime is what matters. A good tip is to exchange cell phone numbers with those you’re planning to meet with, since emails tend to get missed in the conference frenzy.

Get out of your comfort zone: At my core I am an introvert and tend to be shy, so attending the Grand Tastings, speaking with strangers, and the nonstop socializing was nerve-wracking. But reminding myself to see the fun in the situation (after all, TexSom is one of the rare conferences where having wine-stained teeth is acceptable) forced me to put myself out there. I was alone, so I started by finding 1-2 “buddies” that I could walk around with and from there met more people. I also said “yes” to invitations; it allowed me to have more time with media and led me to some great opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Follow-up: This sounds like an obvious tip, but it’s important not to let all those business cards sit in a pile. I sent follow-up notes the day after I returned from the conference. This gave those I met with some time to get back to reality but also still hit them in a recent window to keep what we talked about top-of-mind.

While conferences might get you out of the office, they are certainly still a lot of work. TexSom was a fun opportunity to meet with key wine media and more, but I am also grateful for the chance to practice networking. Like a fine wine, there’s an art to it – and it’s one worth mastering.

Full Disclosure: This piece is based on my personal experience as a 2019 sponsor of TexSom in representation of a client, the D.O.s of Ribera del Duero and Rueda.