By Thom Singer
One of the most common reasons that business professionals attribute to their attending a conference, seminar or convention is the networking opportunities. However, few people take advantage of making the connections that they claim to be seeking. Those who attend meetings often come up short in their efforts to build meaningful relationships.
Too many people in attendance are unclear on how to take advantage of the amazing chances to interact with the others in attendance. People tend to huddle with their co-workers or other long-time friends and close off their conversations. This can create an atmosphere that feels cliquish and discourages others from joining in discussion. It is common for five people from the same company to sit together at a table. Combined they can meet five other people at a table of ten. If they split up, combined they could meet forty-five people. Do the math! Plus they rarely ever speak to the strangers anyway, as they only talk to each other.
Many forget about the value of the networking opportunities and use break times to run back to their hotel rooms or check email and voicemail. Rarely is there an emergency at the office, but the time it takes to check in on every break leave people with little chance to connect. Even when they stay in the area of the conference, too much time on breaks is spent on smart phones and other electronics. If those present at the event are worth knowing, being engaged in conversation will have a better return on investment (ROI) than surfing the internet.
Here are five ways to maximize your ROI from attending a conference:
1. Know in advance who you would like to meet. If you can identify people ahead of time who you assume will be in attendance, you can be on the look-out for them at the conference. Better yet, reach out to them by email a few weeks before the seminar and tell them that you would like to meet them for coffee or a drink. You can utilize any number of industry directories, LinkedIn, Facebook or other on-line tools to locate their contact information if you do not already know them.
2. Always wear your nametag. Some people are not comfortable wearing nametags and will remove them at the happy hours and during breaks. If you are one of these people, get over it. The nametag is a great tool to allow others to start conversations. If someone is looking to meet you at the conference, you want to make it easy for them to find you. Plus, nametags will usually have your company name and hometown displayed prominently, and this is a good conversation starter for another person to ask you about yourself and your business.
3. Have plenty of business cards. Exchanging business cards is common at these events, so make sure you bring a lot of them. Very often people will run out of their cards at events, and this means that when you meet someone you want to connect with you will be at a disadvantage. Politely offering your card in exchange is also a great way to end a conversation when you feel trapped talking to someone and you would prefer to move on.
4. Ask questions of others. You are not networking at a conference to sell anything, therefore forget what you have learned about leading with a pre-memorized “elevator pitch”. Instead, be interested in the other person and what they have to say. Ask them about their company, career path, family, hobbies or any other topic that will get them talking. If you are competing with them to talk, you will lose. People like to talk about themselves, so let them. There is lots of time for you to follow up and let them know about your products and services.
5. Follow up. The most important step to effective networking at a conference is having a good follow up plan. Most people return to work to a very busy schedule and never get around to re-connecting with those they met at the convention. If the conference is out of town, bring blank note cards with you and write handwritten notes on the airplane. Send emails or other information within one week of meeting someone new, or you might not be remembered. Do not assume that the other person will follow up with you, take this action step as your responsibility and you will have more success at establishing a real connection.
All opportunities come from people. Attending a conference can expose you to large numbers of exciting and influential people in your industry who could impact your life and career. But these people can also be ships that pass in the night. You will never know what could have come your way from someone you did not meet at a conference. If you will be attending the NATSO event in 2014, start thinking about how you will make networking a priority and discover the power in the relationships that can come from being at the conference.
/// Thom Singer is a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant. He is the author of ten books on the power of business relationships, networking, presentation skills, and entrepreneurship. More information at www.ThomSinger.com.
Singer will speak on Monday, January 27 during the Keynote Kickoff on the Power Of Business Relationships and on Tuesday morning on the The ABC’s Of Networking. Learn more about his educational sessions at The NATSO Show here.