As an executive presentation coach, I recommend that you plan to attend at least one professional conference each year to keep you knowledge, skills and relationships current with the changes in your industry and chosen profession. You never know when you are going to need them.
Your investment in time, money and travel to attend these conferences will be well rewarded with a boost in knowledge, motivation and great new networking connections.You will not only sharpen your professional skills, but you can also accelerate your networking power. You may become a learning junkie and networking animal like me!
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your success at these conferences. It’s all about preparation and follow-through.
Before the Conference
- Sign up and pay in advance. Put your money on the line as a show of your commitment to show up!
- Get a friend to go with you. Leverage the power of obligation!
- Show up – no lame excuses like you have too much work to do.
- Find out who else is attending and reach out to a few people before the event.
- Ask the conference organizers for a list of registered guests (plus vendors and sponsors).
- Check out the conference facebook event page to see who has marked themselves as “attending.” This is valuable information to you!
- Post your intention to attend the conference on Linkedin.com and ask who else is attending.
- Research the companies and individuals who you now know will be attending. The more you know about them in advance the better!
- Be bold! Reach out to speakers and workshop leaders in advance. These are connected people.
- Time block your calendar at least two hours the day after the conference for your follow-up correspondence.
- Net Net: build rapport before you show up
During the Conference
- Bring plenty of business cards (more than you think you’ll need). Make them easily accessible – in your jackets pocket or business card holder. Don’t go fishing around the bowels of your purse or briefcase and pull out a dog-eared, stained representation of you!
- Wear comfortable, sensible shoes (I’m serious!). It’s hard to work the room when you are in pain and agony.
- Wear professional attire with pockets and lapels that make it easy to wear name tags and access your business cards.
- Drink plenty of water during the event. You want to be well hydrated. Limited the coffee and avoid sodas if you can. You want to keep a high level of energy about you.
- Do not sit or hang out with your work colleagues. Instead embrace the “divide and conquer” strategy. Recognize when you are being a chicken shit and overcome your fears about talking to strangers at the conference.
- Actively take notes during the formal sessions. You’ll want to refer back to these key learning insights so you can share them with others.
- Approach vendors and start up conversations. You don’t have to buy anything. Consider it an opportunity to practice your pitch. Also don’t “enter to win…and dash” It’s not about the free stuff; it’s about the making new connections.
- Actively exchange business cards with every one you meet at the conference. Jot down three pieces of information on the back of their card: 1) today’s date; 2) name of conference (abbreviated); 3) one word memory jogger from your conversation with this person.
- Net Net: be fully present and make as many connections as you can.
After the Conference
- Congratulate yourself on showing up and playing full out.
- Share what you learned with your on-line network via social media. Link to a relevant article, share handouts or link to the conference website. Plenty of people weren’t able to attend, but you can gift them your top-line learning. (let’s hope you took notes)
- Comment on the conference web site or social media page. This will make them feel really good and give you added exposure.
- Pull out all of the business cards you collected at the conference. Within the next 36 hours do one or more of the following activities:
- Send a handwritten card or postcard referencing key aspects of your personal conversation with them. Include your business card again if you can. (Hint: save time and money by using SendOutCards to send your personalized follow-up correspondence. That’s what I use..and love it!)
- Send a linkedin.com invitation with a personal message referencing the conference and your conversation (mandatory if you have any networking cooth)
- Follow-up on any and all promised networking connections you offered other people. Make it easy by using email or Linkedin.
- For the high potential new connections, reach out personally and invite them to coffee/tea, breakfast or networking lunch. If geography is an issue, invite them to a schedule phone call to get to know each other better. Make your invitation approachable and hold off any any hard-sell language or asks. Give before you get!
- Add these people’s contact information to your contact managements system or database. Don’t allow these business cards to lay around unattended for days/weeks/months. Record it. File it. Purge it (the card that is), but keep building the relationship.
Optional Actions for Networking Athletes:
- Blog about what you learned at the conference. Broadcast your blog via social media.
- Write the conference organizers to congratulate them and than them for an excellent event.
- Write to the speakers/presenters thanking them and invite them into your network.
- Net net: follow-up is key to turning new connections into productive relationships.
Your networking GOAL for this week:
Look at your calendar over the next three months. Take note of what professional conferences and external events you have signed up for. If you haven’t yet, do some “shopping” on-line, ask your networking colleagues for their suggestions. Sign up for something this week. Complete the registration and then time block a few hours before and after the conference to allow you to adequate prepare and to do the all-important follow-up.
- Let me know what results you get from implementing this business networking tip – NetworkingAhead.com/facebook