Making the Most of YOUR Conference Experience
Are you headed to the ICMA Conference in San Antonio, your state association meeting or regional luncheon? Regardless of where you are headed, you’ll want to make the most of your time and your organization’s investment in you while you attend the event. But how do you get the most out of this conference? Simple: Be prepared. Have a plan. And, most importantly, BE YOURSELF. Your networking objective for any conference or event should be more than to walk away with a pile of business cards. The goal is to spark connections that can be the start of long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Check out these 10 networking tips to help you get the most out of your conference experience before, during, and after the event:
BEFORE YOU GO…
1. Plan & Strategize.
Think about what you want to accomplish at the conference. Are you there to meet as many women as possible or do you want to make, say, five solid connections? Knowing this beforehand will help you to better prepare what you want to say and the questions you’ll want to ask. Come up with a few simple conversation starters that immediately engage that person such as, “Where do you work?” “How did you get started in your industry?” “I’d love to hear more about what you do.”
2. Elevate Your “Elevator” Speech.
Just about everyone has an elevator speech so it’s important that yours is one that will help you stand out from the crowd. Think of it as a 30-second commercial about yourself. Spend time thinking about what you want to say. Make it concise, creative, and focused. After you’ve written your speech down, practice saying it aloud. Be sure to time yourself—you don’t want it to be too long or to sound scripted!
WHILE YOU’RE THERE…
3. Use Those Business Cards.
Don’t forget to take more business cards than you think you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than making a great connection but not being able to hand that person your card. And, don’t forget to use the blank side of the business cards you collect at the conference: After you’ve met someone, take a second to jot down a few key words or phrases that will help you remember who that person is and note any follow up actions.
4. Less Talk, More Listen.
While you, of course, want to tell people all about your career, your business, and/or your accomplishments, it is also important to make sure you don’t do all the talking. Networking shouldn’t be only about you, let the other person speak. Learn about what they do. Be sure to listen carefully, show that you are genuinely interested in what that person is saying. In the end, this will allow you to make a deeper connection with her.
5. Ask Perceptive Questions.
Think of the questions you want to ask of those you meet. Go beyond the typical, “And what do you do?” Try to dig a little deeper. If speaking to an entrepreneur, ask how she got started; what were the challenges that she faced? Once you hear her story, your questions can become more specific. But don’t make this an interview—keep your tone conversational. Mention some anecdote about yourself or somebody else that ties into what the person just said.
6. Put Away the Electronics.
As hard as it may be, it’s important to not whip out your Smartphone, Blackberry, and other electronic devices the minute you sit down for lunch or a break. These are key times for networking. If you are texting away, you’ll seem unapproachable and distant. That’s not the point of a networking conference. You want to always be available to talk and make connections.
7. Be Confident.
For some, entering a room full of people they don’t know can seem intimidating. Sort of like walking into the cafeteria on the first day at a new school! Just remember, everyone at the conference shares a common interest with you. It’s often easier to insert yourself into small and/or odd-numbered groups. Be confident. Approach a group of two, three, or five people, smile, and introduce yourself. Use some of the conversation starters you prepared. Listen to what they’re talking about and add what you can to the conversation.
AFTER THE EVENT
8. Promises. Promises.
After the conference, be sure to follow up on any promises you made. Whether it was helping someone in a job search or reaching out to a mutual contact, be sure to follow through on what you said you would do. This sincerity and trustworthiness reinforces your personal brand. It will enhance your reputation with the person you networked with, and that person’s connections, as well, and will go far in helping you establish a long-lasting business relationship.
9. Do Your Homework.
Once you get home or back to your office, don’t just put away those business cards─ now’s the time to organize them and your thoughts about the conference. Make a more complete list of the contacts you made, the topics you discussed, the tips and resources you discovered. Research the people you networked with and their companies for a more comprehensive understanding of what they do and, ultimately, what they may be able to do for you.
10. Follow-Up Emails.
It’s important to send follow up emails to those you connected with, but why not wait a day or two? This way, your correspondence won’t be lost in the flurry of emails that everyone sends the minute they leave the conference. Just be sure to reference what you spoke about; perhaps send a relevant article, or mention something specific that occurred at the conference. And be sure to make a concrete plan to meet or speak again in the near future.
Reprinted with permission from Women360