Monday, September 22, 2014

Maximizing Conferences and Seminars, Part 3

This is part three in a four part series about ways to make the most of your attendance at a conference.

2. Make the most of your time at the conference

Attending a conference is not a vacation. It is work. In fact, if you execute your conference experience correctly, you’ll find that you are more tired and mentally drained than you get during a normal work day. At a conference, you are constantly ‘on’. That takes energy and discipline to stay focused like that for 10 – 15 hours a day for several days in a row. So be sure to eat healthy foods in moderation, get plenty of rest and don’t drink too much while at the event.

Arrive early and stay late

Arrive early and be prepared. Have a way to take notes, bring business cards, an extra pen, mints, the conference schedule and attendee list, your name tag or badge, and anything else you think you might need during the day. Getting to sessions a few minutes early enables you to get a good seat, speak to others beforehand and sometimes get time with the speaker before they go on.

Stay off the smart phone

You can’t meet people if your head is buried in your iPhone. Studies show that most people check their phones about every 6 minutes. Look around the room during a presentation and you’ll see just how tied to their phones most people are. But the time that you spend on your phone is time that you are not spending making new connections. Sure, there are times when you have to take the call or answer the e-mail. But these are really pretty rare instances. Set up your out of office message to explain that you will only have period access to your e-mail and then live by that. Check your e-mail no more than three times a day. 

Introduce yourself effectively

When you meet someone for the first time, greet them with a smile, look them in the eyes and show genuine interest in meeting them. Avoid talking about yourself until you are asked. And even then, keep it brief. The less you say about yourself and the more you ask about them, the more curiosity is built to learn more about you. Ask easy questions that anyone can answer. Listen to learn what they like, where their interests lie, which aspects of the conference is most intriguing to them and why.

Socialize with people you don’t know

At all types of events, its human nature to gravitate toward those you know well or in whom you have things in common. Resist the temptation to (what one of my managing partners used to call) “clump with your buddies.” One of the greatest values of a conference is the opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. These opportunities don’t come along often so make the most of it. Go out of your way to strike up conversations with strangers.

Make the effort to initiate conversations

To establish a new relationship, you have to find common ground on which to start building the relationship. You don’t have to find someone that like your hobby of skydiving. Simply being at the same conference is enough common ground to start a relationship. While you are mingling in the halls or prior to the start of the presentation, is the perfect time to initiate meeting someone.

Be matter of fact and ask simple questions that anyone can answer. Did you travel far to get here? Is the hotel what you expected? Is this weather a break from what you have at home? Once you’ve broken the seal, offer something of value such as an interesting session you attended, news of a recent development in the industry or the best ideas that you plan to take back to the office.  Watch their body language and be prepared to exit the conversation politely if they don’t appear interested. Follow the flow of the conversation and stay focused on what they are saying.

Stay in the flow of traffic.

People who hang out in the corners send a signal that they don’t want to engage with others. It’s not typically true, but people who are not proactive connectors won’t approach someone standing by themselves. If you see someone standing by themselves, do yourself and them a favor and approach them and start a discussion. Everyone is there for the same reason and most people will appreciate the chance to talk to someone and not look like they are by themselves.  If you have time to kill, stand near the food or beverage tables or where people are congregating.  Gravitate toward where there is activity. This is where you’ll also most likely find natural connectors.

Introduce others

Adding value to a new relationship leaves a strong impression. One way to add value is to share your network with others. You never know how others will benefit from knowing one another. More often than not, especially at conferences, people you introduce will benefit from the introduction. If they do, you will as well. Make an effort to invite others into your conversation, introduce them to one another and mention how you know each other. If you can, mention something interesting about both people, whether it is personal or professional. Often, other will find something in common and it can provide energy and interest for the conversation to develop.

Watch body language

Before approaching a group, be sure to check out their body language. Groups of two or three who are facing each other may be in a private discussion. If they have a more open stance, they are in a casual discussion and will typically welcome another person to the conversation.

Take notes

If you are good, you’ll meet dozens of people during the conference. Recalling the particulars of the conversations you had, their interests, information on their family or other key information will be difficult in the days after the conference if you don’t take good notes immediately following your discussion. Always ask for a business card and write notes on the back of the card. For some that you meet, you may even feel comfortable writing a note while speaking to them. It’s flattering. It shows that you value having met them and want to continue a relationship. Record as much information to make a future contact easier nad show that you were listening.

Be present and listen

Once you have engaged in conversation with someone, be ‘in the conversation’. There’s a lot of activity at conferences and most people have a tendency to keep one ear on the discussion and one eye on who is walking through the room. This sends the impression that the person you are talking to is not really that important. And it is off-putting. You will set yourself apart by being present in the discussion, looking them in their eyes and truly listening to what the other is saying.

If I can help you get the most out of your event attendance, give Eric Dewey a call at 502.693.4731. You'll find that I am an eager resource and that it costs nothing to talk.

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