Conferences are wonderful opportunities to learn from and connect with amazing industry leaders. It is often said that in today’s world, it is not what you know, but who you know that really counts. This seems to be the case regardless of the field or profession. So a professional conference truly does provide us with an excellent opportunity to attain both information and access to social capital by networking with those in attendance.
I would like to share a couple of key tips for making the most out of your time at a conference by networking with the gifted individuals all around you.
Tip # 1: Be present.
Sometimes old school is better than the new school. So, go against the grain of the millennial universe and put your phone down and actually make eye contact with others. A nice firm handshake and a personal introduction can go a long way! You can tell a lot about someone from an authentic self-presentation that includes eye contact, a pleasant smile, and a genuine interest in others.
Tip #2: Just do it.
Start talking and get the ball rolling with a conversational kick starter depending on where you are at in the country: “How about those Dodgers (or Yankees), the presenter, the weather or the food?” People at conferences are more likely to welcome your input and actually look forward to engaging with others, which often times includes a few interruptions from welcomed guests. Conference lobby transition times where they roll out the dessert, coffee, and water are basically a set-up for talking story, visiting with old friends, making new ones, and connecting with people simply because you all find yourselves at the same event. Seize the moment and jump right in.
Tip #3: Say yes to group meals off-site.
The best food is often located somewhere outside of the hotel, downtown or many times in a rundown part of town at a local taco stand. It is not only the food, but the adventure of doing so with conference attendees that is the best part about it. That time of connecting and the relational bridge established there with others is really critical to professional life, well-being, personal sanity, and potentially one’s own future employment opportunity. It does not have to be a job interview but sometimes getting to know people who know someone to whom they eventually refer you to can lead to a pretty amazing opportunity just because you took the time to connect.
Tip #3: Sit within range but don’t stalk.
Highly regarded and extremely influential people are typically present at every conference we register for that we would really like to meet. We often “have not because we ask not” and because we are also “not in the right place at the right time.” So, positioning yourself to meet a key individual is really important since you have to seek an opportunity to do so, and the best types of connections are ones that are free-flowing, organic, and natural. The closer you are able to sit within range the more likely you are to be able to meet and greet. However, truth be told, if there is a line to meet someone, it is better to wait your turn than to try and jump ahead! First impressions are everything.
Tip #4: Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up.
Follow-up really begins by intentionally pursuing a lead, idea, or recommendation generated through an encounter with someone at the conference. You don’t have to wait until the conference is over to follow-up. In fact, the sooner the better. Out of sight out of mind is true here too. If you make a connection with someone about a proposal or plan for the future, it is best to follow-up or at least set up a time to meet or discuss the matter in the future via email, phone call, or face to face before the conclusion of the conference.
Tip #5: Meet for coffee before and after workshops.
Got Golf? Yeah, me neither! A cup of coffee is the next best place for major deals, agreements, and plans to be discussed. If you are like me and your golf game is just not something you would invite anyone else to suffer through, a cappuccino will do the trick. Some of the best brainstorming sessions happen right there at the convention center coffee shop, the nearest Coffee Bean or Starbucks where you are able to sit down and fan into flame incredible concepts to be teased out, negotiated, and executed over time.
Tip #6: Forget your business card. Send them one.
In this tech-savvy environment, business cards look good but they are not always so great, especially when you lose them or they wind up in the trash can after you empty your pockets late at night. Email works even better, and I think it is the more direct connect route, especially when you intend to request something in the near future. You can share your contact card by airdrop, email, and via cell phone as well. Remember, a cell phone number is always the best! Actually, if you have connected professionally with someone at a conference and this person gives you a cell number, you have definitely jumped up a notch in terms of the trust factor.
Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose so treat it like actual currency and know that this colleague is seriously considering making a commitment to doing business with you in the future. Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up.