Do you attend conferences, workshops, luncheons, and social events? Are you a great networker? Or do you have trouble getting real value (other than the speakers and content) from such events from a networking perspective? If you are like me, walking up to someone to chat is a challenge. Yes, it is true! I am not comfortable in such situations, especially when I am speaking at a conference and I know no one!
This week, I am in Halifax. What an awesome city! I am back here again in June and looking forward to it. I am here for the Events Atlantic Summit and then the Sport Event Congress (SEC) for Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance. These two events have great speakers and topics, but also lots of networking opportunities. I know some folks attending both, but not a ton. So how do I plan on approaching these events and getting the best ROI I can from both?
Here is my game plan for maximizing networking opportunities at conferences and events.
- Prior to going, I try to find out who will be there. This is for two reasons as noted below. It can be done by asking the organizer for a list of attendees in advance or asking people that you think are going if they are.
- Once I know who is going, I make a plan to try and connect with some of them specifically. I am OK with going up to people I know, or sort of know, but I have a planned idea. If I see that Jeff, Emily, Chelsea, or Holly from Calgary Sport Tourism Authority are attending, I will plan to look for them. I will also plan the “conversation.” In this case, it might be that I follow up on how their sponsorship manual is working, or if it is Jeff, how their advisory council is moving along. I might even reach out to them in advance and ask to meet with them, so they are looking for me as well, or set a location and time (like a break) to meet.
- Alternatively, if I see someone on the attendee list that I don’t know and would like to meet, I can take two approaches—look for them and try and connect or reach out prior. I prefer to reach out prior. It makes me more comfortable and yields better results. I determine who I want to meet and why! I need to know my objective in advance. It may be that I think they are really cool and just want to meet them; perhaps we have a mutual acquaintance who said I should meet them; maybe I want to prospect them for our consulting services; or maybe they are a link to a possible client. I need to know what I want to achieve (relationship building). Then I search them out (if I don’t already have their contact info) typically through LinkedIn or through someone who knows them. Then I email them or go through LinkedIn, and tell them I am excited they are at SEC and would love the opportunity to meet with them while we are both there. I will tell them what my objective is and then suggest a couple of days and times as options.
- I then follow up with any meeting requests to make sure I have some “booked” casual meetings/meet-and-greets.
- On site, I try to stay away from my hotel room. If I go there, I can get trapped! I will have emails to respond to, proposals to write, reports to finish, etc. and I could lock myself in there for hours. So I try to avoid my room other than to sleep. I also try to get up early to respond to emails from the day before, follow up with meetings I had, or do any urgent work. If I do it before the conference begins each day, I can then focus on content, learning, and networking during conference hours.
- I attend (and plan in advance) which sessions I want to go to. I try to grab a table or a seat with people I don’t know. Then I am “forced” to meet new people. Typically, I try not to gravitate to people I know when in sessions. This takes me out of my comfort zone, but it is in a safe environment. The focus of the time is on the speaker, not networking, and other people are usually more comfortable with introducing themselves and starting a conversation in this environment.
- At networking events such as cocktails, evening mixers, or breaks, I hopefully have scheduled to meet and chat with someone there in advance, such as “Yes, John, let’s meet at the afternoon nutrition break. I will look for you by the coffee.” If I have not done this, I will tend to stand in a spot where I can be of “service.” I will do things like hand out napkins or plates. It is a great conversation starter. Then, if someone asks me to join them, I do!
- At sit-down meals, I tend to follow the same approach as speaker sessions—gravitate to a table where there are people I do not know.
I hope this helps you as it does me. If you have suggestions, please share them with me or on the blog! If you are at SEC this week or Events Atlantic and see me standing alone and lost, please come by, say hello, and we can start up a conversation about this TMC blog! What a great conversation starter!
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